Options for Felpham sheltered housing where residents have to user showers outside the building are considered
“I have spoken to a number of residents – and at no time have they ever dreamed that we would be considering bulldozing their home and kicking them out.”
This was the response from Arun councillor Paul English when he learned about one of the options being explored for a sheltered housing scheme in Bognor Regis.
Since March 2020, residents of 16 studio flats in Flax Mean House have had to use shower facilities set up outside the building – rather than the shared facilities inside – to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
With residents unhappy with the situation and the district council accepting that it was ‘not ideal’, letters were sent out asking for opinions on what should be done.
The responses were described as ‘mixed’, so five options were put to a meeting of the council’s residential & wellbeing services committee on Thursday (July 22), with members asked to decide which should be explored further.
While no actual decisions were made, members asked officers to look into two of the options, with their findings due to be brought back to a later meeting.
The first option was to reconfigure the studio flats into 12 self-contained flats, and the second was to dispose of the entire site – Flax Mean House and its neighbouring bungalows.
A report to the committee said the first option, which would not include the bungalows, would cost around £800,000 – although that figure was only indicative – while the second could secure more than £3.5m through the sale of the land.
The residents, of course, would have to move.
The meeting was told that the studio flats were currently ‘way below’ the space standards required, though the reconfiguration option would bring them up to scratch.
Mr English (Con, Felpham East), while not a member of the committee, was invited to speak and made his views clear.
Calling for a proper consultation into whichever option the committee eventually chose, he said: “Whatever you go for, this is going to have repercussions for a lot of people.”
He added: “All they wanted was indoor showers and not [having to] walk around outside in the middle of winter, freezing.”
It was a view shared by Joan English (Con, Pevensey), who said the idea of ‘bulldozing’ Flax Mean and moving the residents out was ‘not acceptable’.
She added: “They haven’t asked for that – they’ve just asked for a little bit of help with getting a slightly better standard in there.
“To actually go down that avenue would be awful for them and it would [leave] other people in sheltered accommodation feeling that, if they raised a question to ask for any improvements, they wouldn’t do that for fear of losing their homes.”
Should the reconfiguration option be chosen, the money for the work would be taken from the Housing Revenue Account (HRA).
Likewise, any money made from the sale of the land would go back into that account to be spent on general housing.
It’s is an area in which the council has a shortfall, while the committee was told it had an ‘over-provision’ of older persons’ accommodation in the district.
Philippa Dart, director of services, told the committee: “Although it’s an emotive subject and it is very much about people’s homes, this is about maximising the housing stock – the business of the HRA really.
“I know it’s really difficult – and it feels really hard to talk about people’s homes in this way – but we’re looking at options to make improvements to their homes.
“We’ve got to maximise the units. We have got to consider disposal.
“You may want to reject that but it’s right that officers bring that before you.”