Councillors in a Sussex town enthusiastically backed a proposal to transform a vacant building into short-stay accommodation for homeless people.
Developer Roffey Homes had offered a building in Lyndhurst Road, Worthing, to Worthing Churches Homeless Projects for conversion into a 37-bed short-stay accommodation unit for the homeless.
The charity would have temporary use of the building, which was formerly used as NHS offices and nurses’ accommodation, for a period of up to five years for free.
Addressing the planning committee yesterday (Wednesday, January 10), John Holmstrom, chief executive of Worthing Churches Homeless Projects, said it was ‘a big opportunity for the town’.
“There is such a scarcity of accommodation,” he said. “We urgently need more.”
He assured councillors the accommodation would have a staff controlled central entrance and a minimum of two staff on duty 24/7 in order to ensure it is fully safe and well managed.
He added that the offer came at a ‘crucial time’ as the Homelessness Reduction Act, due to be introduced in April, would impose a new duty on the council to prevent and help to secure accommodation for non-priority need people, as well as those deemed a to have priority need.
Councillors warmly welcomed the proposal at the planning meeting in Worthing Town Hall last night, voting unanimously to approve the plan.
Councillor Paul Westover called Roffey Homes an ‘unsung hero’ while councillor Hazel Thorpe said: “This is a developer with integrity.”
She said councillors should be proud that the council was ‘moving forward’ in its relationships with developers and said: “I hope this partner project will encourage other developers to do the same.”
It was a sentiment echoed by other members, including councillor Edward Crouch, who said it was a ‘really creative use’ of a vacant building.
Referring to the costs of housing people in emergency accommodation such as B&Bs, he said: “It’s an outrage that the borough ends up paying hundreds of pounds a week for frankly substandard accommodation.”
Councillor Paul Yallop said the unit would support people in the community who most needed help.
He said the application outlined ‘quite basic reasons that people become homeless’, adding: “They are things that could happen to any of us.”
But he stressed that any subsequent application made by Roffey Homes, which hopes to redevelop the site for thirty flats at some point, should be considered as a separate matter.
After the meeting, Mr Holstram said: “I am thrilled that there was such a clear unanimous decision and that the committee clearly grasped what we were trying to achieve.
“They picked up on how this could be an example which perhaps other developers could follow.”
Ben Cheal, managing director at Roffey Homes, said: “The directors of Roffey Homes have supported Worthing Churches Homeless Projects since their conception and saw this as an opportunity to continue our support to them and also the wider town issue of emergency accommodation provision.
“We hope that our support will aid Worthing Churches Homeless Projects and others in their quest to stop homelessness in the town.”