Despite facing substantial local opposition and a campaign against its approval, Keystone Homes Ltd’s plan to convert the former Black Country Saddlery building into a facility for vulnerable individuals is set to be considered by Walsall Council’s planning committee on January 15.
The proposal outlines the transformation of the saddlery building on Wednesbury Road into 11 flats, accompanied by two rooms designated for staff members. While officers are recommending approval in their report to the planning committee, the contentious project has faced fierce resistance, evident in two petitions—one with 145 signatures and another with 73—lodged against it.
During the consultation period, a total of 141 objections were submitted, leading a ward councillor to call for a review, expressing concerns about insufficient parking, lack of waste management details, privacy issues for neighbouring properties, and fears of increased crime in the area.
Opponents of the scheme argue that it is part of a pattern where such facilities are consistently rejected in wealthier areas but are seemingly “dumped” in economically disadvantaged regions like Palfrey, turning it into what they describe as a ‘social dumping ground.’
The Local Democracy Reporting Service disclosed last year that residents had formed a campaign group in opposition to the project. However, the official report to the committee states that neither the police nor other statutory bodies, including highways and housing standards organizations, have raised objections.
“In considering the relevant factors, responses from consultees and neighbours against the backdrop of national and local planning policies and guidance, it is deemed that the proposal would be an acceptable use of this previously developed site within an existing residential area,” stated the officers. They added that there is no substantial evidence indicating that the project would contribute to an increase in crime or anti-social behaviour in the area.
Addressing concerns about privacy and noise disturbance, the report assured that the proposal would not lead to a significant loss of amenity for neighbouring residents, emphasizing that the application complies with off-street parking policy requirements.
The facility is set to be managed by Aspire Living, who assured that staff would be available around the clock to provide assistance. They emphasized that the facility would offer crucial support to those struggling and outlined a strict policy against housing ex-offenders or individuals with drug/alcohol addictions.
The campaign group opposing the development comprises local residents, business owners, a mosque, and two churches, garnering support from ward councillors. A group member voiced frustration, saying, “The situation is reaching a tipping point. We already have various facilities within a one-mile stretch, including hostels, transit sites, rehabilitation centres, and refuges.”
This member highlighted the challenges the area has faced with organized criminal activity, drug use, and historic issues with prostitution, questioning the rationale of expecting vulnerable people to be rehabilitated in such an environment. Another resident echoed these sentiments, claiming that there is a form of “social dumping” taking place, with facilities gaining approval in less affluent parts of the borough while being consistently enforced on poorer ward areas such as Palfrey.
As the controversy intensifies, the upcoming planning committee meeting will play a pivotal role in determining the fate of the proposed transformation of the saddlery building into a facility for vulnerable individuals in Walsall.