Leaders to be quizzed over hostel use

COMMUNITY leaders are being asked a series of questions over why a backpackers' hostel has been allowed to be turned into a centre for immigrant workers without consultation.

Richard Cornwell

COMMUNITY leaders are being asked a series of questions over why a backpackers' hostel has been allowed to be turned into a centre for immigrant workers without consultation.

There is growing concern that the former vicarage and old people's home Seven Oaks, in Trimley St Mary, has possibly been changed without planning permission into a use which was not what villagers expected.

Many believe a fresh application should have been submitted - allowing them to have a say.

In 2000, there were considerable objections when the property was given permission as a hostel for 50 backpackers.

People were under the impression it would be used by young travellers, possibly exploring the world on a gap year between studies, staying a few nights and moving on - like a youth hostel.

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But instead it has become a centre for immigrant workers - many of which use it as their permanent home all-year-round.

Some believe this is a change of use - and they have been denied their right to give views and flag up potential problems.

There have been problems - allegations of people urinating in gardens, complaints about an incident with air gun pellets, and drunkenness in the bus shelter, litter in Church Lane - but the Felixstowe and District Safer Neighbourhood Team says these are now under control and management of the centre has improved.

One nearby resident said: “It is a definite change of use - not what we were led to believe would happen at all.

“There have never been any backpackers there. This change has been engineered by stealth and it is totally wrong.

“We should be allowed to have our say and voice our concerns.”

Suffolk Coastal has issued a gangmaster's licence which they say gives council officers better control over Seven Oaks and restricts the numbers which could be living at the property.

This set a limit of 26 people staying in the 13 ground floor rooms, and eight in the four first floor rooms, with the second floor being set aside for one household.

Are you concerned about Seven Oaks? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

FASTFACTS: The Evening Star's questions for Suffolk Coastal

Seven Oaks was given permission in 2000 as a backpackers' hostel - isn't turning it into a centre for foreign immigrant workers a change of use requiring a fresh planning application?

A hostel for backpackers implies a sort of low-grade hotel for temporary stays for people on gap years travelling around Britain, while a centre for foreign workers is a much more long-term, possibly permanent home for those living there. Did the council not think fresh consultation should take place with villagers on this issue?

Why has no consultation taken place with residents regarding the gangmasters' licence now granted to Seven Oaks' owners so they could highlight concerns?

Has the public not been denied its right to take part in the democratic process by being disallowed an input into the licence?

How long will the licence run and will the public be consulted when it comes up for renewal?

Is the council still receiving complaints about the activities taking place at Seven Oaks and its running and operation?

What action is now being taken by the council to ensure the licence is operated exactly as it should be?

Are council officers visiting the property regularly to inspect it and check on what is happening?

What is the latest situation concerning the digging in the basement of the property?

What permission exists for activities in the extensive grounds of the house?

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