Crime fears scupper asylum seeker HMO plan in Walsall

A plan to convert a former Walsall care home into a HMO for asylum seekers in a crime-plagued area has been rejected.

The former Redhouse Nursing Home in Redhouse Street, Walsall. PIC: Google Street View
The former Redhouse Nursing Home in Redhouse Street, Walsall. PIC: Google Street View

Walsall GP Dr Rahul Sahay had hoped to convert the old Redhouse Nursing Home in Redhouse Street, Palfrey, into a 35-room facility to be run by provider Serco.

But the plans sparked strong objections in the community with a 63-name petition and a number of letters voicing concerns about anti-social behaviour being put forward. Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz also voiced her opposition.

Despite officers recommending approval, members of Walsall Council’s planning committee rejected the scheme due to an increase in the fear of crime.

Chairman Mike Bird and committee member Aftab Nawaz also said they had concerns about Serco due to bad experiences of them running similar facilities in the borough and beyond.

Dr Sahay said his own experience in working with Serco had been positive and pointed out they were a Government-appointed provider.

At the meeting, ward councillor Sabina Ditta said: “I am objecting on the basis that it will lead to the risk of the safety of residents.

“It will lead to an increase of anti-social behaviour and other crimes in an area which is inundated with crime.

“Redhouse Street alone in 2020 had 132 violent offences, 30 anti-social behaviour incidents, and 23 public order crimes reported.”

“The planning procedure was flawed and misleading. The public notifications are confusing and not all residents were notified.

“And there is the risk to public health. Such a facility will exacerbate the risk of infectious diseases. Currently we’re dealing with Covid-19.”

Councillor Nawaz said: “This is primarily a terraced housing street and there are already two HMOs on Redhouse Street.

“Adding another one with possible challenges raises a lot of concerns for me and I can understand totally the residents’ concerns of the level of crime and anti-social behaviour that may arise. If I was living there, I would be fearful.”

Dr Sahay said: “The home has been vacant for two years now. Our application has been recommended for approval by the planning officer.

“We always have and always will adopt a collaborative approach in working with the authorities and community.

“For example, the police and housing standards made some recommendations and we amended our plans based upon the feedback.

“Once we received feedback from residents that they were concerned about crime and anti-social behaviour, we changed our plans and engaged with Government affiliated Serco – who are responsible for supporting asylum seekers integrate into society as well as site management.

“Above my own GP surgery, we have five residential flats which are home to seekers of asylum and managed by Serco and my experience has been positive.

“This is not a secure unit or detention centre. This will become their home where they have a right to a normal private life.”

He was backed by Dr Anand Rischie, who has been a GP in Walsall for 15 years.

Dr Rischie said: “Redhouse provides an ideal location given the privacy and rooms that they have and individuals who will be moving in should be able to live a private life and blend into the community and help with the economy in the area.

“These people are ordinary people like us, coming into the country. They will have a lot of extraordinary history and that is why it is so important for them to have the appropriate well-being interventions.”

He added he would work closely with the home to support health objectives for residents and to ensure infection prevention measures were in place.

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