Hartlepool councillors defend decision to refuse housing scheme for refugees

The buildings in Tankerville Street that are going to be converted into a hostel.
The buildings in Tankerville Street that are going to be converted into a hostel.

Planning councillors have defended their decision to refuse a refugees housing scheme despite being overruled and criticised by a planning inspector.

Permission for the home of multiple occupancy for up to 20 people in Tankerville Street, Hartlepool, was granted by government-appointed inspector Mark Caine.

He was critical of the reasons of members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s planning committee’s in unanimously refusing it last September.

Mr Caine said the council had been guilty of “unreasonable behaviour” after going against the advice of their own officers and caused unnecessary expense and inconvenience for the applicant Jomast.

The authority is now facing a sizeable bill from Jomast for its legal costs.

But members of the committee, which met yesterday, defended their original decision.

Councillor Marjorie James said: “I want to make it clear I made the decision based on the information in front of me, my personal knowledge, what public information is available and taking into account objectors and applicants’ information.

“I don’t count in the potential cost of that decision, neither should I because that’s not relevant to the issue.”

Coun James added: “When you lose, it potentially costs us money and when you win, you get nothing.

“That’s the unfairness of the process but this committee has to remain free to make decisions based on the information that we are provided with or bring with us as common knowledge.

“It is unfortunate that we have lost but I would still hold my hand up and vote as I see fit on the applications that come before me.”

The committee refused the original application saying it felt the location was unsuitable due to being in an area of higher than average crime and anti-social behaviour.

The council produced statistics which showed that between August 2013 and August 2015 there were 128 incidents of anti-social behaviour and 103 recorded crimes in the area.

Mr Caine said there was no firm evidence such crimes would be down to residents of the house or that it would add to the fear of crime. But Coun Ray Martin-Wells said the inspector had misunderstood the committee. He said: “It was as though we were saying immigrants were going to come and cause problems and that’s not why we made the decision.

“We feared for the safety of the immigrants and that was completely lost. Our concerns were for the health and well-being of the immigrants and we didn’t feel it was a suitable place for them to be rehomed.”