Seven Oaks - questions answered

RESIDENTS will not be allowed to have a say on the future of a centre for immigrant workers - because the law says they cannot be consulted.

RESIDENTS will not be allowed to have a say on the future of a centre for immigrant workers - because the law says they cannot be consulted.

Council officials will decide if the use of the former vicarage continues when its current licence needs renewing.

Meanwhile, officials have revealed that using Seven Oaks in the heart of Trimley St Mary as a centre for immigrant workers did not need fresh planning permission because it was not a change of use.

Although owner Larry Graham asked Suffolk Coastal to use the extensive detached building as a backpackers' hostel, the definitions of the use under planning law include seasonal and migrant workers.

A council spokesman said: “The use of it as somewhere for migrant workers to live falls within the original planning permission which was for back-packers, seasonal workers etc, so there was no legal requirement for a fresh planning permission to be sought, and therefore no new public consultation was required.”

Since then a licence has been issued for the property as a house of multiple occupation, which has regulated and controlled its use, and cut the number of residents from 50 to 34.

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However, government regulations say the licence is a matter for the council - and not one on which the public should be consulted.

While migrant workers are defined as seasonal, villagers have become concerned many live there permanently, which was not in the spirit of the intended use - a hostel where people would come and stay for short periods.

There have been problems at the centre - allegations of people urinating in gardens, complaints about an incident with air gun pellets, 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.

The council's private sector housing team is keeping a close eye on the property and says it is visited regularly by officers.

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

The editor of the Evening Star declares an interest as he lives near to Seven Oaks.

Q&A: The Evening Star's questions answered by Suffolk Coastal council

Q1: 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: Planning permission was granted for it to be used “as a hostel for back-packers, seasonal workers etc” and the use of it by migrant workers falls within that planning permission, so no change of use was necessary.

Q2: 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?

A: It is being used as a hostel for migrant workers, which by definition usually means they are temporary workers in this country. As explained above, the use of it as somewhere for migrant workers to live falls within the original planning permission which was for back-packers, seasonal workers etc, so there was no legal requirement for a fresh planning permission to be sought, and therefore no new public consultation was required.

Q3: Why has no consultation taken place with residents regarding the House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) Licence now granted to Seven Oaks' owners so they could highlight concerns?

A: The relevant law regarding HMOs relates only to whether the accommodation is suitable, or can be made suitable, and whether the proposed licence holder is a legally fit and appropriate person and that the management arrangements are otherwise satisfactory. On these matters, there is no scope, and certainly no requirement, to consult with residents, although we did check with the police. It should also be noted that the licence restricts the number of people living there to 34 in the 13 ground floor rooms and four first floor rooms, with the second floor set aside for one household.

Q4: Has the public not been denied its right to take part in the democratic process by being disallowed an input into the HMO licence?

A: The rules about issuing a licence have been set down by Parliament, and these rules relate only to whether the property, the applicant and the management arrangements are fit to be given a licence. There is no role as set out by Parliament for the public to comment on any of those issues.

Q5: How long will the licence run and will the public be consulted when it comes up for renewal?

A: The HMO licence runs until 2013, and under the current legislation there is no scope for the public to be consulted about whether it is renewed or not. Again, officers at the council can only decide about the licence on whether the property, the applicant and the management arrangements are fit for it to be renewed. However, we will clearly take into account, if renewal is sought, whether the Grahams have met the conditions of the licence that we insisted upon when the licence was issued last year.

Q6: Is the council still receiving complaints about the activities taking place at Seven Oaks and its running and operation?

A: Our private sector housing team have recently received one complaint setting out a history of incidents from last year, and one other complaint from someone regarding incidents that have occurred elsewhere but that are alleged to be linked to Seven Oaks. On February 16, one of these two complainants contacted us regarding an hour of loud noise at the weekend and he is now contacting our noise monitoring team. One of these complainants has also been in touch with our planning enforcement team.

Q7: What action is now being taken by the council to ensure the licence is operated exactly as it should be?

A: Our private sector housing team regularly inspect the property.

Q8: Are council officers visiting the property regularly to inspect it and check on what is happening?

A: Yes and the last visit was on January 30. According to Mr Graham, no-one has ever made any complaints about his residents directly to him. Local residents can report any problems to our private sector housing team on 01394 444256. Any problems with anti-social behaviour can be reported to Suffolk Coastal's community safety team on 01394 444763 or e-mail community.safety@suffolkcoastal.gov.uk or download a reporting form from www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourdistrict/communitysafety/anti-social

Q9: What is the latest situation concerning the digging in the basement of the property?

A: Our planning enforcement team are investigating some alleged breaches of planning permission that have been reported to it.

Q10: What permission exists for activities in the extensive grounds of the house?

A: We are not aware of any activities that are occurring in the grounds that are in breach of the planning permission, or the HMO licence. However, we can confirm that there are no planning permissions for any business activities to be carried out in the grounds of the house.

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