Shefford homeless plan gets go-ahead

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A former Shefford care home is to be turned into temporary housing for local people in need of a roof over their head.

The Birches in Hitchin Road will provide families and individuals with short-term accommodation, while they are supported by Central Bedfordshire Council in finding a more permanent property.

It will be converting the old care home layout to provide 13 self-contained flats and four individual rooms with shared facilities.

It will be a mixed-use premises with eight family flats, office accommodation and 17 parking spaces, planning officer Debbie Wilcox told a meeting of the council’s development management committee.

“It’s my understanding it’s very specifically for residents of Central Bedfordshire and even more so for those of the Ivel Vale,” she said.

Shefford town councillor Paul Mackin said it was understood there would be 24/7 on site security.

“We recently heard about problems Bedford Borough is having from the 400 people rehomed from London boroughs.

“How long is it before we are going to get some of those dropping in?” he asked.

“Concerns about increased crime and anti-social behaviour are very high on Shefford’s agenda after the problems we had last year, with people who were rehomed into the area from outside, and the amount of police time it costs.

“Access to the site is very poor and if it goes ahead we would like to see a separate access provided.”

The council’s head of housing management Carol Rooker said: “We’ve been trying to secure a range of accommodation across the area to help applicants remain where possible in their local communities.

“At present, some homeless families have to move to Dunstable or Houghton Regis or even further afield, which disrupts their support network, their work or their school journeys.

“Housing staff are committed to ensuring The Birches is well-managed and that the residents have minimal impact on the local community.

“They will just want to get on with their normal lives,” she added.

“In most cases they have fallen on hard times, have had their private rented accommodation ended, or their families have asked them to move becasue they’re overcrowded.

“We have agreed that any residents at The Birches will be low risk in relation to the location of the scheme and the residential nature of the area.”

The aim will be to move people on from The Birches within five to six months, the committee heard.

Shefford councillor Tony Brown said there has been reassurance that anyone misbehaving will be relocated.

“We (ward councillors) support this proposal as a temporary solution to cover the immediate needs.”

Councillor Sue Clark said: “I feel really saddened that there is this great level of fear in the local community about providing small flats for people who are in a pretty desperate situation.

“I am just really sorry that we find ourselves in this situation. I support this application.”

Conservative Toddington councillor Tom Nicols said: “Although there is a great deal of noise about it, I sense most people have some sensitivity to the issue.

“I don’t think the audience are against the prime objective of it.”

All the accommodation on the ground floor will be suitable for use by disabled people.