Residents asked ‘who in their right mind’ would agree with plans to repurpose a Hitchin hotel into supported housing for the homeless. People have said their lives will be a “misery” and are raising fears for safety in the area.
The Grade II listed Lord Lister Hotel on the outskirts of the town center has already been used for this purpose for several months. From now on, a request for retrospective planning will be reviewed at a planning meeting on Thursday, June 23.
Opponents of the scheme said anti-social behavior near the hotel had “significantly” increased in recent months, with many worrying about the safety of children attending nearby schools. Many also expressed concern that the move would cause damage to the listed building and surrounding conservation area.
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North Herts Council provided £200,000 of government funding to Keystage Housing in August 2021, under ‘special emergency’ provisions, to provide homelessness prevention services. The Community Interest Company, which runs similar schemes in Luton and Northampton, subsequently obtained a long lease from the Lord Lister following a private sale.
The Lord Lister is intended to provide an intensive support service to homeless single people and those who are also at risk of rough sleeping in the district. People may have been in prison recently or may have struggled with mental health issues, drug addiction or alcohol abuse.
One of 183 comments submitted on the planning application portal reads: “The Lord Lister Hotel does not represent a suitable location for a homeless shelter – it is currently operating at capacity (without planning permission) , and there has already been a significant increase in reports of anti-social behaviour.North Herts already has an established charity to support homeless people in the area and would be able to do this in a way that meets the needs of new residents and does not cause hardship to those who live nearby, in the heart of downtown Hitchin.
Another resident said: ‘I STRONGLY OPPOSE the change of use of The Lord Lister hotel to a halfway house for ex-prisoners and people with drug and alcohol problems with very little support for residents.
“The location is not suitable, it is close to schools, residential areas, a pub. Who in their right mind would think it appropriate to put such an establishment in this part of town? any town. The Lord Lister is located on a walking route for people to walk into town, my daughter and her friends feel uncomfortable walking past.”
The CEO of Keystage Housing issued a lengthy statement last month that read: “We are all neighbours. We are one community.” James O’Grady’s statement apologized to residents for some “unfortunate incidents” on The Lord Lister and made a number of promises for the future. It followed a disruption on April 30 between a client and her caregiver.
It read: “As a community, we have all been through some of the unfortunate incidents that have happened at our site in Hitchin. As a member of your community and as your neighbors, we are sorry you are going through this and sorry that it impacts your lives. We are listening to you – and in the future, I hope we can listen and learn together.
Mr O’Grady continued: “The journey to homelessness is different for every person. With no-fault evictions in the UK up 17% and the end of the Everyone Agenda during the pandemic of Covid, homelessness continues to be a presence for all of us.”
He promised the team would be “mindful”, “responsive”, “hardworking” and “respectful”. He also called for change, saying: “Let’s change perceptions, let’s help people change and let’s change this number of 600 homeless people who die every year: let’s reduce it.
The planning officer responsible for the case recommends that council grant permission for the change of use. The report reads: “The planning system only controls the use of the land and not the user of the land and specific issues of anti-social behavior that may be related to a particular organization or its residents are matters that other agencies need to regulate.”
The report says the building will remain the same, with the addition of some safety and security features. It reads: “Physical changes include the installation of CCTV, new security features including locking systems on doors and windows, secondary glazing for sound insulation, as well as exterior lighting and security gates On-site management of use includes 24-hour staff coverage, secure access for staff and residents only Use operates 24 hours a day and residents are not required to to be in the accommodation at particular times.
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