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 generis – Of (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.