Plans to move addiction services to Middlesbrough town centre rejected over 'crime' concerns

Lord Houchen had the casting vote on the proposals put forward by Middlesbrough Council. Credit: Google Maps / PA / ITV Tyne Tees

Plans to relocate a health hub offering addiction support have been turned down amid politicians' concerns over crime.

Middlesbrough Council applied to move the Live Well Centre, which currently operates from the Dundas Centre, to two units at the Cleveland Centre which have stood empty for 13 years.

Services offered include mental health support, sensory loss clinics and addiction recovery.

The plan was rejected over concerns about the proposed location, as well as the "reality and perception" of crime in the area and putting the services "slap bang" in the middle of the town centre.

Tees Valley Mayor Lord Ben Houchen had the casting vote on the plans as chair of the Middlesbrough Development Corporation. He rejected the application and said there are issues surrounding the "perception and reality" of crime and anti-social behaviour in the town centre and disagreed with moving drug and alcohol services “slap bang in the middle of the retail space and opposite Centre Square".

Residents have told him they don’t go into the town centre because they don’t "feel safe", he said.

"On balance, it’s a tough one, but personally I don’t think I can support the application on the basis of issues around criminality, both real and perceived, and the further erosion of retail – which is minimal of the town.

"Given the broader context of what were trying to do in the town, I don’t think this is what we should be doing."

Lord Houchen recently won a third term as Tees Valley Mayor. Credit: PA

Supporters of the plan said the Dundas Arcade was no longer considered fit for purpose but vulnerable people in the area still needed access to the services

The planning board of the Middlesbrough Development Corporation (MDC) considered the application at Middlesbrough Town Hall on Friday.

Four board members had the vote: Mayor of Middlesbrough, Chris Cooke, Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, former Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner, and businessman Idrees Rashid.

Lord Houchen and Mr Turner voted to turn down the plans, while Mayor Cooke and Mr Rashid voted in favour.

Clive Heaphy, associate member of the board and chief executive of Middlesbrough Council, said the town "is facing the same challenges as town centres and city centres up and down the land” in terms of redefining its uses.

"Mixed use includes meeting the needs of people in town and city centres who are vulnerable people who need those services," he said.

"Their needs have to be met within the area which they are. I don’t see that the proposal here is asking for anything that is outside the norm. At the end of the day we’re going to have to find solutions in the town centre for people with those needs."

Mr Heaphy also noted there were no concerns from neighbours in relation to the location of the centre and said making changes to the plans at this stage would slow down the provision of services.

Cleveland Police was consulted and the force recommended people accessing the drug and alcohol services were directed into the practice via the Albert Road entrance as opposed to through the Cleveland Centre itself.

Mr Rashid said: "I think the percentage of services that might have a potential for issue is very small. Having this external access might be the solution.

"Generally I’m in favour of bringing those types of services to the community to make them more accessible."

Mayor Cooke said the council would be based in the building and anti-social behaviours would not be tolerated.

He also questioned whether an officer from the council – the applicant – was invited to the meeting, stating he had been told they were not. Members were told it was believed they had been invited but it was noted the date for the meeting had been changed several times.

Mr Turner had argued the proposal was contrary to the council’s Local Plan which states no more than 15 per cent of primary shopping frontage should be used for non-retail purposes. The most recent figures for Middlesbrough showed a percentage of 16.5 for non-retail uses in the town centre.

However, a report to the MDC planning board said a "more flexible approach" should be taken in respect of this policy, in order to promote the long term viability of the town centre. Mr Heaphy suggested refusal on those grounds "sets a precedent" for future proposals which pass the 15 per cent threshold.

It was an "unsound reason", he said, and would have to be applied in all cases going forward. Lord Houchen said each application would be assessed on its own merits.

Following the meeting, a Middlesbrough Council spokesman said they were now considering options, including the possibility of submitting an appeal. He said: "The Live Well Centre provides a wide range of services from elderly support and sensory loss clinics to assistance for young people with disabilities.

"At the same time, there is a recognised oversupply of retail space in the town centre, in line with national trends. This is an important project for Middlesbrough town centre as we seek to increase footfall, support existing businesses and attract new investment."

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