A radical proposal to transform an empty block of student flats into a new temporary HMO for rough sleepers could help tackle Luton's dire homelessness situation.
The planning application was made by charity Signposts and it seeks to convert the ex-student block – Guildford Halls in Guildford Street – into a 45-bed HMO for temporary housing of homeless people.
Signposts has been a homeless charity operating in Luton and Dunstable for more than 30 years.
A planning statement says: “This proposal .. would significantly enhance Luton’s ability to tackle rough sleeping in an area where there is a clear need for this type of accommodation.
“Guildford Halls could be a crucial asset in the fight against rough sleeping in Luton.
“The 24-hour management by Signposts will ensure that there would not be a greater risk of crime, noise and anti-social behaviour than the former student accommodation.
“The development would provide a satisfactory living standard and would not have a detrimental impact on the amenity of local residents.”
The site has been vacant since 2015 and contains 46 rooms, with a communal kitchen in each wing of the building.
Planning permission for a similar scheme in Park Street – comprising 80 rooms – was refused earlier this year, on grounds that it “prejudiced” delivery of housing in the area and “carried a considerably greater risk of crime, noise and anti-social behaviour" than student accommodation.
The planning agent for this scheme argued that, unlike the failed Park Street HMO, this proposal would only consist of temporary accommodation with a maximum stay of one month. It would also come under the full-time management of Signposts – which manages other properties in Luton without issue.
Luton has repeatedly been identified as a homelessness blackspot and has the worst statistics of rough sleeping in the East of England, according to charity Shelter.
The agent for this proposal cited Luton’s own strategic housing market assessment (SHMA) report, which painted a bleak portrait of the situation.
The report stated: “It is evident that whilst homelessness problems in Luton and Central Bedfordshire reduced over the period between 2005 and 2010, the situation has since deteriorated and problems are now at their most acute relative to the last 10-15 years.
“It is also important to recognise that housing advice services provided by the councils now limit the number of homeless presentations – through helping people threatened with homelessness find housing before they become homeless – so it is likely that current problems may actually be notably worse than they were in 2005.”
A decision is aimed to be reached on the application by August 12.