#ECCplanning Committee considers #SafeSleepExeter

Earlier tonight, Exeter City Council’s Planning Committee considered Planning Application 16/1376/03 – a change of use from A1 to temporary night shelter (sui generis) until end of March 2017 for the former Richards Aquatics, Market Street, Exeter, EX1 1BW.

The facts of the case are summed up in the Officer’s Report presented to the committee, and the Officer’s recommendation was for APPROVAL.

I spoke to this application under Standing Order 44:


Here’s what I said:

I sit here before you as Lead Councillor for Communities and Neighbourhoods. Today I want to represent a hidden community, a voiceless community – the Street Homeless. And  I also represent the over 850 people who have signed an i-petition in support of this application.

None of us know why each individual has ended on the streets. Rough sleepers are not the problem – they are the result of the problem. Most don’t choose to be homeless. Circumstances have arisen to cause them to be in the situation.

And what a position to find yourself in. The average life expectancy for a male living on the streets is 47. And for a woman it’s even lower – 43. No-one would make that choice, would they?

Steve Barriball of Citizens Advice Exeter has often said that many of us are only 3 pay slips away from homelessness…and that means that someone who is permenantly housed today may need to us Safe Sleep by the end of February. There but for fortune go you or I.

You are normally asked to consider an application and determine it solely on planning grounds but this application for a change of use is different as it is sui generisOf (his/her/its) own kind, meaning that something has very special characteristics. They are so special, that the thing cannot really be compared to anything else.

In planning terms, the term relates to buildings are those that do not fall within any particular use class

I believe Safe Sleep does have very special characteristics – it will be in operation to save lives on the street over the winter. It is vital that such a night shelter is provided in Exeter – otherwise people will die of the extreme cold. I don’t want that on my conscience – do you? Do the objectors?

Rough sleeping is damaging for the individual and detrimental to the communities in which they live

Some of the objections suggest they are not happy because people are rough sleeping around them, yet they still complain when something is done to shelter the street homeless.

So lets be clear, these premises could mean people might make steps to getting the help they need to turn their lives around, and no longer be a part of the street attached community.

There have been suggestions that such a facility should be located away from the city centre. I disagree. The location is a good one. This is where rough sleepers are. If we put the emergency shelter 1 or 2 miles away people are going to just stay where they are.

Let’s look at what happened when Safe Sleep ran last year.

In the 91 days the scheme operated, 1,235 bed spaces were provided during the scheme, assisting 82 homeless people to be accommodated, with 45 moving on to more settled accommodation at the end.

Whilst in the warm, Exeter City Council’s partner support agencies are able to meaningfully engage with these vulnerable people and turn around the – often chaotic – lives of those who normally shun such intervention.

As a result of last year’s Safe Sleep, many of the people who used the scheme are no longer rough sleepers.

Safe Sleep can help the street homeless today, tomorrow and well into the future.

Julian House has a long and excellent track record in providing support for the street homeless and will ensure that all is done to minimise the impact on the surrounding – and wider – neighbourhood.

They say in their planning statement that he proposal will not harm the amenities of nearby residents by virtue of noise, smell, litter or late night activity.

Nor will the proposals create or increase the potential for public disorder and crime or reduce the perceived attractiveness of the centre through support by professional staff; a close working relationship with the existing Homeless Outreach team, and a close working relationship with the police

In that regard, I am sure that Julian House will take on board the comments of Paul Taylor, Devon & Cornwall’s Designing Out Crime Officer.

But it’s not only Julian House that are involved with this project. Other homelessness agencies across the city and significant numbers of volunteers are due to come together to help the street homeless community. A real sense of communities coming together to bring compassion to that hidden community, that voiceless community.

I have received assurances that City Council, along with Julian House and the other partners, are committed to working closely with nearby residents and businesses to ensure that concerns are heard and responded to

To sum up:

The aim of Safe Sleep Exeter is simple – to prevent loss of life and to reduce rough sleeping to as near zero in the city as possible.

And the proposal suggests that the operation will positively contribute to the wider safety of the city centre.

To me that’s a WIN WIN scenario. I hope you agree?

During their live updates from the meeting, the Echo’s reporter Katie French described me variously as “Man supporting homeless shelter speaks to the committee” and “SafeSleep spokesman addresses council“. Thanks to Chris Dent for taking to twitter to let her know who was speaking:


The Planning Committee approved the application UNANIMOUSLY.


One thought on “#ECCplanning Committee considers #SafeSleepExeter

  1. Meeting of Planning Committee, Monday 5th December 2016 5.30 pm (Item 97.)

    Planning Application No. 16/1376/03 – Former Richards Aquatics, Market Street, Exeter

    To consider the report of the Assistant Director City Development.


    Councillor Morse declared a disclosable interest and left the meeting during consideration of this item as she had been consulted on the proposal for using the Former Richards Aquatics for the Safe Sleep initiative in her capacity as Portfolio Holder for Customer Access.

    The Assistant Director City Development presented the application to change the use from A1 to temporary night shelter (sui generis) until end of March 2017. He reported further representations that had been received in support and objection.

    Members were circulated with an update sheet – attached to minutes.

    Councillor Bull attended the meeting and spoke on this item under Standing Order No. 44. He made the following points:-
    – speaking as Lead Councillor for Neighbourhoods and Communities on behalf of the street homeless, a hidden and voiceless community, and some 860 signatories to an online petition in support of this Safesleep application;

    – rough sleeping is not the problem but the result of a problem since those in this need do not choose to live on the streets but find themselves there through circumstances;

    – the average life expectancy of the homeless is 47 for males and 43 for females, Citizens Advice Bureau stating that some others are only three payslips away from the same fate;

    – a similar facility the previous winter had provided 1,235 bed spaces over 91 days for 82 homeless, 45 of whom had secured more settled accommodation thereafter as a result of engagement with voluntary partners who help to turn around chaotic lives. Safesleep can help today, tomorrow and into the future;

    – a City Centre location is necessary as rough sleepers would not seek the use of any out of centre facility;

    – Julian House has extensive experience in working with the homeless and can help ensure minimum impact on the surrounding and wider neighbourhood and harm to local amenities such as through noise, smell, litter and late night activity. Will work with the Police and through the Street Homeless Outreach Team (SHOT) to minimise anti-social behaviour;

    – Julian House will work with the Council, other housing agencies and volunteers all coming together in a real sense of community to help this voiceless community. There will be close liaison with local residents and businesses to reassure them over their concerns; and

    – this facility will contribute to the wider City Council objectives and, crucially, result in zero loss of life.

    Mr Denning spoke in support of the application. He raised the following points:-
    – working closely with Exeter City Council and responding to the numbers of people identified nightly by the Julian House outreach team and verified by the formal rough sleepers count and, in particular, the high numbers of women sleeping on the streets of Exeter, the case for providing emergency accommodation which is safe, warm and supervised is overwhelming;

    – the building itself has the size to make it work well, and it is open plan allowing observable and safe operation. There have been a number of comments recognising the need for a winter shelter, but seeking an alternative location. A shelter well outside the city centre would have lower take-up and therefore be less effective in achieving its purpose;

    – the main issue is the impact of the shelter on crime in the immediate area and concerns have been raised locally. The comments from local residents and traders have shown that there is a high level of anti-social behaviour now. By bringing people out from shop doorfronts and other city centre locations offering a safe, warm and supervised environment and, ideally doing this in partnership with the local community, all ingredients will be in place for anti social behaviour to reduce;

    – Market Street is an area not free from anti social behaviour now, and an initiative like this, will not solve the underlying problems, but should see anti social behaviour reduce during the time it is in operation. The shelter will have two experienced staff on duty at all times and the building inside, as well as the area immediately outside, will be covered by networked high definition CCTV; and

    – the rear entrance will not be accessible by visitors.

    He responded to Members’ queries:-
    – enhanced CRB checks are carried out on all Julian House staff;

    – high definition CCTV cameras will monitor any individuals hanging around this facility. Any issue of anti-social behaviour can be followed up by the SHOT;

    – are links to agencies who also offer support to women and those with mental health and substance abuse issues;

    – any aggressive clients will be barred from Safe Sleep;

    – three staff will be employed during the day and two between 12 midnight and 08.00 hours, assistance also available if necessary for the latter shift from outreach workers in the City Centre who work for Julian House. Although the night shift workers may not have a male/female split, again females from the outreach team can be called upon;

    – will be a contact number available for residents and businesses to raise concerns, a closed Facebook Group set up to receive feedback and Brett Sentence has met with the owners of the DanSci Dance Studio; and

    – Safe Sleep is set to open on 12 December for 90 days over December, January and February and will remain open in March if the weather remains cold.

    The recommendation was for approval, subject to the conditions as set out in the report.

    RESOLVED that, subject to an additional condition requiring a management plan, permission to change the use from A1 to temporary night shelter (sui generis) until end of March 2017 be APPROVED, subject also to the following conditions:
    1) The development hereby permitted shall not be carried out otherwise than in strict accordance with the submitted details received by the Local Planning Authority on 4 November 2016 (Site Location Plan, Planning Statement, Floor Plan as Existing and Floor Plan as Proposed), as modified by other conditions of this consent.

    Reason: In order to ensure compliance with the approved drawings and details.

    2) The use hereby approved shall cease on or before 31 March 2017.

    Reason: To ensure that the use ceases when no longer required as part of Safe Sleep.

    3) The use hereby permitted shall be carried on only by the organisation Julian House and shall cease at such time as the aforementioned person(s) cease to occupy the site.

    Reason: To enable the proposed use by the applicant to be monitored.

    Supporting documents:
    Former Richards Aquatics, Market Street

    MAP Former Richards Aquatics, Market Street


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