£10m programme to buy properties to house the homeless defended as councillor queries location in Bedford

Councillors rounded on one of their colleagues when he queried how the council chooses which properties to buy to house the homeless.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 5:28 pm

Bedford Council has £10million set aside to buy 80 properties to provide temporary accommodation.

In December last year it snapped up 14 flats at the converted Plaza cinema at 17 St Peter’s Street in Bedford town centre.

Cllr Ben Foley (Green, Castle) welcomed the principle of buying properties but questioned what information the council’s executive had on other similar properties near St Peter’s Street which could worsen antisocial behaviour and begging.

Cllr Foley said he was aware of disruption originating from a nearby property including “people with visible weapons, drug use, begging, all sorts of problems.

“From my perspective adding some relatively disrupted and vulnerable families into the mix very close to Howard Street is something that is quite worrying,” he told the budget and resources overview and scrutiny committee.

“Given that you’re dealing with families that are already very disrupted then putting them so close to a property which has the problems really was not such a good idea.”

Cllr Foley said he had been legally homeless and in temporary accommodation himself and is “anxious that people in such accommodation are provided with good quality accommodation.”

The converted Plaza in St Peter's Street

But Labour Cllr Kay Burley (Kempston central and east) hit back saying she was “quite concerned about the attitude that’s been put forward.”

“They are human beings that need somewhere to live.

“The fact that there’s somewhere across the road that has got some disruptive antisocial behaviour going on is not what it’s about.”

She added: “Welcome to the real world councillor Foley.”

She was supported by Cllr David Sawyer (Lib Dem, DeParys) who said the policy is a “win win for the council” with savings in the costs of temporary accommodation.

And Cllr Jake Sampson (Lib Dem, Newnham) said the council has a duty of care to the homeless.

The committee, which met on Thursday, was told the number of households in temporary accommodation has nearly doubled to 285 in just 12 months.

Lee Phanco, the council’s chief officer for customer experience and digital services, said they have to move quickly when a property comes on the market.

“We are not the only organisation that may be looking at these,” he said.

“We are aware that one London borough is placing people in and around the town centre.”

He added that a company with a Home Office contract to house asylum seekers was also considering leasing the building but the landlord thought it was a better option to sell it to the council.

He added: “Clearly it would not be appropriate to reject a potential opportunity due to the location of other temporary accommodation on short-term

rental, or premises being used by other housing providers where the use of the property was not on a permanent basis.”

Mr Phanco agreed that consultation with the council’s community safety team could take place more formally.