‘No need’ to open Preston homeless shelter in antisocial behavior hotspot
A vacant property in Plungington will be converted into a shelter for vulnerable adults without a roof – or for those at risk of finding themselves in this situation
The Preston City Council planning committee has given the green light to the proposal, for a house on Villiers Street, amid concerns from some of its own members and a request from the head of the authority to postpone the decision for allow time for discussions on the development of nine rooms.
However, the council’s town planners said there was no legitimate reason to delay or deny the request to convert accommodation that previously served as student accommodation – and which would function in a broadly similar fashion in the framework of the new plans.
Plungington community and police describe their fight to thwart anti-social behavior …
The operator of the planned facility said at a committee meeting that it would be “well managed” and would offer support and shelter to those who find themselves in “survival mode”, often not knowing where their will come from. next meal or where they will sleep at night. The ultimate goal is to give them the confidence and skills to move into a place of their own.
The non-profit community benefit company Lotus Sanctuary said it would have two full-time employees on site during weekday office hours, while the premises would be “actively monitored” by “sophisticated” CCTV at all times. another time, using a system that generates alerts if it detects screams in the premises.
Chris Roberts, director of acquisitions and investments for the Wolverhampton-based company, told advisers it carefully selects its residents and would not accept anyone whose “needs are too great … and would not fit our service model” . He added that drugs and alcohol would be “strictly prohibited” on the property.
However, committee member David Borrow warned: “While the residents themselves have been carefully chosen, they are inherently vulnerable – and so other influencers within the region can actually… benefit.
“This vulnerability leaves them open, unless they are managed very carefully, to have relationships with [individuals] who will bring drugs and alcohol to the premises, ”said Cllr Borrow.
Plungington’s once thriving UCLan student community has largely swapped the area for on-campus housing – and many vacant properties left behind have been turned into collective housing for people with complex needs.
The reported increase in anti-social behavior and drug abuse in the region culminated last year with a series of police raids and warrant executions, which saw more than 40 people arrested and seized – in Plungington and surrounding area – £ 1.25million in Class A and Class B drugs, plus £ 100,000 in cash.
Sixty-five people opposed the request for Rue Villiers – citing concerns about its potential to worsen crime and social problems in the area, as well as creating noise and disruption for existing residents.
Meanwhile, committee member Jennifer Mein said she had “a lot of reservations” about the proposal – and questioned its necessity.
“We have a fairly large number of housing units available to house the homeless,” she said.
Mr Roberts said city council had been “receptive” to Lotus’ plans and, responding to a separate point raised by Cllr Borrow, added that the company would work with charities and the local authority to seek to accommodate people from Preston – and not bring them in from further away.
Council chief Matthew Brown and social justice cabinet colleague Nweeda Khan – two of the three councilors representing the Plungington neighborhood in the authority – had contacted the committee to ask it to put its decision on hold pending further discussions between them and those who were behind the plans.
However, the committee learned that the applicant, Grolar Development Limited, had offered on September 13 to hold such a meeting in the hope that it could be arranged before Thursday’s committee. Members were told the claimant was not ready to extend the Oct. 1 deadline for authority to adjudicate on the claim, meaning councilors were to make a decision on the same day.
However, during an adjournment while the matter was being considered, Cllr Mein spoke to city council housing officials – and then presented the committee with a very different picture than the one painted before the break.
She said the response from the housing team was “not responsive”.
“The answer was, it’s not necessary, it’s not wanted and it will end up costing Preston City Council money. [due to an issue regarding housing benefit payments].
“My information is that [the housing department] clearly advised that these services are not required by Preston and that we have sufficient services. Therefore, the next problem is where [Lotus will] bring in their residents – and my great fear is that they may not be Preston residents. said Clr Mein.
Mr Roberts said he felt the company had received a responsive response, but that he was “not working on this side of the business on a day-to-day basis.”
He added: “Most of the time… these services are well received. [by councils] because we are helping vulnerable people… and breaking the cycle of temporary housing.
Responding to the exchange, Cllr Borrow said that having previously been convinced the property would be well run, he now had “absolutely no faith in any of the promises made … before the committee today” – and proposed the postponement requested by Cllrs Brown and Khan.
He also raised the question of the potential financial impact on the authority, as the company behind the plans was not a housing association, or linked to one – meaning the city council would not be able to claim full reimbursement of the cost of the investments.
However, senior legal counsel Ian Blinkho warned the committee that he did not think the concerns raised were “important planning considerations”.
Development management chief Natalie Beardsworth said it wasn’t as simple a question as trying to persuade an applicant to change the design of a house building project.
“If we were to differ, I don’t know what you would expect the caseworker to discuss with the requester – because I don’t know what scheduling issue you are trying to overcome,” she said. added.
Faced with the possibility that the authority would be seized of an appeal for not ruling on the request in time – and having no reason not to do so – Cllr Borrow reluctantly withdrew her postponement proposal.
The request was then passed, with seven members voting for and three – including Cllrs Borrow and Mein – abstaining.
In a statement after the meeting, Chris Roberts said Lotus Sanctuary has helped over 1,000 people since its inception – and is committed to engaging with the local community about its development in Plungington.
He added, “We are pleased that planning has been granted for our new project in Preston. Our goal is to help those in the region who are in difficulty or who are homeless [and get] in a safe space with a new empowering support system. We will work closely with the local council to provide support to those who need it most.
“We’re excited to start, but we understand that people may have questions or concerns, so we’ll be working proactively with authorities and the local community, going door-to-door and showcasing Lotus Sanctuary so that they understand who we are.
“It is our responsibility to provide the highest level of care to our residents, which in part involves keeping their property to the highest standards. It is a springboard for the most vulnerable, to give them the support they need to bounce back.
The Post understands that Lotus will now begin to identify vulnerable people who will be accommodated on the Plungington property, whose residents will be all male or all female.
The committee meeting had learned that the building would not be used to provide shelter for women fleeing domestic violence – the only case in which Lotus says it is opening its accommodation to people from outside the area.
Preston City Council Chief Matthew Brown – speaking generally about the issues raised by the bid – said local authorities need to be better empowered when considering such proposals in areas like Plungington, which had gone downhill ‘a “relatively quiet area” to a problematic area.
He also said he would like to see Preston introduce a “selective licensing system”.
“In areas where anti-social behavior has increased and is [at its] worse, [people] should come to the council to apply for a license to become a homeowner – and this would be based on some [criteria].
“It would mean managing the property to a certain standard and making sure tenants have rights – but more importantly, if there is anti-social behavior. [caused by] the people associated with these properties, [the landlords] they would have to deal with it, otherwise they wouldn’t get a license or we would take that license away from them, ”said Cllr Brown, who stressed that such a program in the city should prove profitable.
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