'People are dying' shouts public as Luton Council debates plans for new homeless hostel

Passionate support for rough sleepers in Luton could be the key to ensure plans for a new hostel in the town centre go ahead.

Monday, 7th October 2019, 1:05 pm
Last Wednesday's planning committee was packed with members of the public

“People are dying,” was one emotive cry from the public gallery, during a packed borough council committee meeting on Wednesday.

There was plenty of encouragement for everyone speaking in favour of the proposals for Guildford Hall, 80-94 Guildford Street.

Applicant I-Occupy Limited wants to turn the vacant former student accommodation into a 45-bedroom house in multiple occupation (HMO), according to a report to the council’s development control committee.

The site at Guildford Street

But the project was recommended for refusal by planning officers because the HMO “is likely to have an adverse impact on the character and amenity of the area”.

The report also said the proposed use would “carry a greater risk of crime, noise and anti-social behaviour than student accommodation”.

Planning officer James Wells referred to more than 200 incidents reported by police over a two-year period from one hostel in the town, which he explained “mostly relate to the bad behaviour of residents”.

But Labour Challney councillor Tom Shaw, who doesn’t sit on the committee, said: “I fully support this scheme. There were about 70 homeless people at the last count. Signposts has got a good track record of giving them support.

“I thought the police would be happier that the people sleeping on the bridges and everywhere else around the town are all in one place.

“As housing portfolio holder in this town, I think it is desperately needed. I hope you overturn the officers’ objections,” he added.

Signposts chief executive officer Kevin Porter described the premises “as the perfect facility to support homeless people in general and rough sleepers in particular”.

He said: “The building cannot be converted into any other use and is totally unsuitable for families to be accommodated.

“During the time it’s been vacant, it’s been squatted in on several occasions and there are a number of people sleeping rough in the entrance way.

“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,” he added.

“We have already agreed a management policy with Bedfordshire Police to ensure the levels of support are adequate.

“We also have an on call system so that we can bring in extra members of staff if higher numbers of support are required.

“These are ordinary people facing extraordinary problems. They deserve your support.”

Signposts is based in Luton and Dunstable helping homeless people to get ready for independent living.

It has grown from one property supporting 19 people to a capacity of 137 bed spaces in 12 properties across Luton and Central Bedfordshire.

Labour South councillor David Agbley chaired this agenda item, as his Farley colleague Dave Taylor, who chairs the committee, declared an interest and stood aside.

There was unanimous approval for deferral of the scheme, with more details to be provided about how the facility will be run.