Residents fight social services move

The Advertiser Series: PRIORY HOUSE: A general view of Priory House, Pity Me, Durham. Picture: TOM BANKS (9048359) PRIORY HOUSE: A general view of Priory House, Pity Me, Durham. Picture: TOM BANKS (9048359)

RESIDENTS are battling to stop social services being moved into their area.

People living on Smithfield, in Pity Me, Durham, fear they will suffer crime, anti-social behaviour and drug use if Durham County Council care for vulnerable families is moved to Priory House, currently a financial services office.

They are also angry the council did not consult them on relocating the services from Hopper House, off North Road, which is earmarked for demolition to make way for a new multi-million pound bus station.

Residents only learned of the switch when a skip appeared outside Priory House. They say they were told work had already begun and would be completed by Friday, August 22.

Chris Hunter, of Smithfield, said: “Clearly the kind of people who will be serviced from this building are a risk.

“Some have a criminal nature and they might see what’s on offer round our street. It’s going to be quite unpleasant.”

Residents question why the council is going to the double expense of moving Priory House staff into County Hall and refurbishing Priory House instead of putting the services into County Hall.

“They have made sure these problem visitors don’t set foot anywhere near their ivory towers,” Mr Hunter said.

Framwellgate Moor and Newton Hall county councillors Mark Wilkes and Mamie Simmons have taken up the issue.

Cllr Wilkes said the council had failed to properly liaise with local councillors, this was unacceptable and he had raised the issue with George Garlick, the chief executive.

“Because of the sensitive nature of some family services offered by the council it would be wholly inappropriate to comment at this stage on specifics.

“However, following a lengthy meeting, Cllr Simmons and I have made sure that residents will receive a full response to their questions and concerns by the end of this week.

“If concerns still then remain we will arrange appropriate meetings for residents to discuss this issue,” Cllr Wilkes said.

Ian Thompson, the council’s corporate director for regeneration and economic development, said he wanted to reassure residents they should not be concerned.

The police had received no reports of incidents relating to the service in the last five years at Hopper House and most work would take place off site, he said.

Priory House is in a semi-commercial area and having fewer staff than previously on site would alleviate parking problems, Mr Thompson added.

“We do not normally consult over operational changes, but as this issue was raised by local members we have kept them informed.”

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