Plans to house young offenders just meters from residential homes and a school have been rejected. 

A bid to convert the former St Cuthberts Social Club in Chester-le-Street was met with fierce opposition from residents. Developer North Heights Ltd had hoped to convert the site into a supported living facility for up to 10 young people aged 16 to 21, managed by YMCA Wearside. 

It said the site would provide “safe and secure” housing for people, some of whom may have experienced extremely traumatic challenges such as homelessness, risk of homelessness, domestic violence, abuse, poverty, unemployment or mental health problems.

A planning statement added: “The overarching vision for this development is to provide professional support for individuals who may not have experienced the most favourable circumstances early in life. This proposed initiative represents a unique opportunity for vulnerable individuals to embark on a positive journey into adulthood, actively contribute to society, and receive support from dedicated on-site staff, the YMCA and the local community.”

However several concerns with the developer’s plans were raised when the proposal was first submitted in August 2023. A total of 128 consultation letters were delivered to nearby residents and 129 objections were returned. 

The Northern Echo:  The former St Cuthberts Social Club in Chester-le-Street The former St Cuthberts Social Club in Chester-le-Street (Image: The Northern Echo)Concerns centred around highways safety including parking and congestion problems, and an increase in traffic in an area where parking is already a problem. The impact of the development on community cohesion was also raised due to the transient nature of residents with no community connections. 

Residents warned there would be an increase in anti-social behaviour and the area would become unsafe for children to play in the street. Objectors also noted how there is already too much of this type of accommodation in the town. 

Durham County Council has now refused the application after planning officers echoed the local concerns. “The proposed change of use of to a residential institution would result in an unacceptable increase in instances of crime and the fear of crime for existing residents,” a refusal statement read.

It added: “The Local Planning Authority also considers that the proposal would be located within an area unsuitable to accommodate the proposed use and as such would fail to offer a positive and safe environment for looked after children, leading to increased exposure to crime and one in which they would be placed at risk.”

The former social club was due to be demolished and replaced with two separate homes after planning permission was granted in 2023, but that process has stalled. 

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The Northern Echo: Plans to house young offenders just meters from residential homes and a school have been rejected. Plans to house young offenders just meters from residential homes and a school have been rejected. (Image: The Northern Echo)

Ron Lancaster, a resident of Lumley Terrace, said the unanimous response against the proposal from residents showed how concerned people were. 

He said: “Neither North Heights Ltd nor YMCA Wearside made any attempt to consult with residents, and conflicting information given in the original submission detailing the proposed use of the facility, had to be corrected during the period of consideration by Durham County Council. This gave the impression that the application had not been fully thought through and had had to be amended 'on the hoof'."

YMCA Wearside was contacted for comment.