Councillors have approved a new homeless hostel in Luton town centre despite planning officers recommending it for refusal.
Passionate support for rough sleepers in the town persuaded Luton councillors to overturn planners' recommended rejection of the project at Guildford Hall on Guildford Street.
Proposals to transform the site into a 45-bedroom house in multiple occupation (HMO) were originally deferred before being approved by the council’s development control committee last Thursday.
One supporter of the project made an emotive cry for the homeless at the previous committee meeting, shouting: “people are dying”.
Planning officers suggested rejecting the scheme because the HMO “is likely to have an adverse impact on the character and amenity of the area”.
Their initial report said the proposed use would “carry a greater risk of crime, noise and anti-social behaviour than when it was student accommodation”.
Labour Farley councillor Dave Taylor, who chairs the committee, stood aside through a personal interest, so Labour Round Green councillor Mark Rivers presided over the application.
He said: “There was approval of the committee for deferring the matter last time to reject the recommendation.
“We asked the officers to come back with a set of conditions built around the proposed management plan for this accommodation.”
Planning officer James Wells said: “Members provided reasons for approving the application.
“So there is now a recommendation that planning permission is granted subject to conditions.
“Condition three in particular requires a homeless person’s housing strategy to be submitted and approved in writing by the local authority.
“The occupation of the site will be monitored to help ensure the use presented in the application provides for homeless people in the Luton area and does not attract those from outside the town.”
Labour Farley councillor Mahmood Hussain said: “We have already given the reasons for this.
“Some councillors had concerns about whether this would involve trying to attract people from outside the area.
“Putting that condition into the planning consent makes it very clear.”
The previous meeting heard that Signposts would be involved in running the accommodation.
Based in Luton and Dunstable it helps homeless people to get ready for independent living.
Signposts chief executive officer Kevin Porter had described the premises “as the perfect facility to support homeless people in general and rough sleepers in particular”.
“The building cannot be converted into any other use and is totally unsuitable for families to be accommodated,” he said.
“Our aim is to provide stabilisation for a two to three-week period, then we’ll move them on to other accommodation either within Signposts or other agencies across the town.
“The remaining 25 places will be for those needing longer-term stabilisation and support.
“The maximum stay we envisage will be approximately six weeks.”
Labour Challney councillor Tom Shaw, who doesn’t sit on the committee, told the initial meeting: “There were about 70 homeless people at the last count.
“Signposts has got a good track record of giving them support.
“As housing portfolio holder in this town, I think this is desperately needed.”
Councillors agreed the project should proceed, having rejected the advice of planning officers in their report.