Larne councillors have called on a housing association to drop its plans for a supported living scheme on a quiet residential street in the town.
A delegation from Triangle Housing attended Monday’s meeting of Larne Borough Council, where they were given an opportunity to respond to elected members’ concerns regarding the proposed facility.
Triangle wants to transform the former children’s home at 4 Prince’s Gardens – owned by the Northern Health Trust – into two-storey development, catering for 16 to 21-year-olds who have left care.
And while the Planning Service is minded to approve the application, there has been a chorus of condemnation from local residents and councillors over the proposal.
While objectors have made it clear they are not opposed to the creation of such a facility in the borough, they are adamant that Prince’s Gardens is the wrong location.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Cllr Drew Niblock told representatives from Trangle and the Northern Trust: “The feeling in council is that this is a very worthwhile project, and the work you do is fantastic. But our concern is to do with the location.”
Cllr Niblock referred to a similar facility operated by Triangle in the Coleraine area, and said he had obtained statistics through Freedom of Information which showed that the PSNI had responded to 73 incidents at this premises in 2013.
The majority of the call outs related to missing persons, but also included threats to kill, burglary, theft and assault and criminal damage.
Mr Niblock pointed out that a B&B was located next to the proposed site in Princes Gardens, and a primary school to the rear.
He also highlighted the potential impact that a rise in the level of crime could have on the local tourism industry, adding: “The Gobbins Cliff Path is due to open next year and beds will be at a premium”.
“I ask you to withdraw this application and we will support you to find other premises,” Cllr Niblock said.
Ald Roy Beggs echoed Cllr Niblock’s views and said: “We no longer have a hotel in Larne and are totally dependant on B&Bs. We are committed to protecting them.
“Those B&B owners in Prince’s Gardens have spent a lifetime building up their businesses and we cannot risk what may happen if this project goes ahead.
“There is also considerable alarm regarding the impact this could have on the nearby primary school.”
Ald Beggs added that while “a need had been established” in the Larne area for the type of facility proposed by Triangle, he vowed: “There will be ongoing and complete opposition to this application on this site.”
Cllr Roy Craig told the delegates that this facility was “not welcome” in Princes Gardens and added: “I suggest you find somewhere more isolated.”
Responding to the concerns, a representative from Triangle said: “There is a lot of fear surrounding the nature of this project.
“But it is a human story about young people who come from the Larne area. They want to live and be employed in Larne. Whether we supply the accommodation or not, they will still live in Larne.”
He added that Triangle had also considered alternative sites in Carrickfergus and Glengormley, but decided that Prince’s Gardens was the “most appropriate” location for the scheme.
“It is close to public transport links, which is important for these young people to be able to access colleges in Newtownwnabbey and Belfast. It is also near local amenities, such as shops and a cinema,” he said.
A Trust spokeswoman told members that without these supported living facilities, young people coming out of care have to use unregulated accommodation, which would lead to “a much worse outcome” for them.
She added: “The Northern Trust has 700 ‘looked after children ‘, and a large number of them are from the east Antrim area.
“These supported living facilities provide a very good standard of car and are inspected every six months.
“We want these young people to be welcomed in Prince’s Gardens and we want to engage with neighbours.”
“It is not our intention to have an adverse impact on the community.
“We are keen to work with council and local residents to cut across these divisions and dispel these myths.”
Ald Beggs questioned why the Trust-owned building was being sold to Triangle, claiming there had been higher bids from other potential buyers.
He added: “We are aware of at least two buyers who were prepared to pay £50,000 more than Triangle.
“There is a strong suspicion that this was a stitch up from the start; a cosy arrangement because of the close working relationship between Triangle and the Trust.”
Triangle responded that it had placed a bid in line with an independent valuation of the property, while the Trust said it had gone through “the proper process”.
Despite the best efforts of delegates, Cllr Gregg McKeen said: “I have heard nothing here tonight that will reassure local residents or businesses”.
The application has been referred to the Planning Management Board for review.