Homelessness in Lewisham – a hostel solution?

As part of the Council’s strategy to reduce homelessness in the Borough, planning applications have been submitted to turn 118 Canonbie Road and Hamilton Lodge on Honor Oak Road into hostels for homeless families. Short term family accommodation is much needed for Lewisham families who find themselves homeless, often through no fault of their own. At present there are 574 Lewisham residents being put up and paid for in bed and breakfast accommodation, many of them outside the Borough: this type of temporary accommodation is very expensive as well as being unsuitable for families in housing need.

Hamilton lodge

Hamilton Lodge, a detached three storey Edwardian building, was used as a 32 unit nursing home until it was purchased by Lewisham Council following closure after the Care Quality Commission found serious issues of non-compliance with four of five key regulations. The Council acquired 118 Canonbie Road in April after protracted legal processes to gain possession of the property which was being illegally run as a hostel. If change of use is approved, work will start to build self-contained accommodation for 9 families in Canonbie Road, and convert Hamilton Lodge into 22 residential units, some self-contained, some shared facilities, but all of a good standard. Neither properties will be used to house single homeless people.

Objections to the planning applications have been raised by some TLERA members primarily concerning pressure on local services, particularly schools, and the potential for anti-social behaviour. Regarding primary school places, because of the temporary nature of the accommodation, in-year transfers will not be an issue if the children are already in another school in Lewisham. Children starting school for the first time this year will not be a problem either, as they will already have a school place. Looking forward to September 2016, the aim would be to find first time places in schools near to where the families are likely to be rehoused. Discussions with two of the three local primary schools indicate that they do not consider the proposals will present a problem for them.

What is perhaps more of a problem for neighbouring householders is the antisocial behaviour issue. Members living near 118 Canonbie have had to endure years of antisocial behaviour when the property was used by a private landlord as an unlicensed hostel for mainly single people, many of whom appeared to have come to England in search of work. Police were frequently called to the property to deal with disturbances and instances of alcohol and drug abuse, often in the early hours of the morning. Council officers liaised with police, housing and environmental agencies to try to resolve the issues but eventually had no option but to undertake lengthy legal procedures to obtain vacant possession of the property in April. However, the effect on neighbours, particularly those with young children, has meant that there is an understandable mistrust of the property once again being used as a hostel, albeit a Council run facility. We have been assured that the Council has a long and successful history of managing hostels in the Borough and will provide a full management, housing support, maintenance and caretaking service. Householders will rent their accommodation by way of a licence which means that if they fail to comply with the conditions attached, e.g., not causing a nuisance or not looking after their accommodation, they can be served with a notice to vacate within 7 days, or sooner if necessary.

The TLERA Committee have discussed the Council’s plans in detail on several occasions, but no clear consensus was reached. What was also clear in discussions with members was that there was also no real consensus among them. Given this, it was agreed that the Association should not formerly object to the proposals, but note any concerns that were raised and seek clarification/reassurance from the relevant Council officers. This was also the stance adopted by the Forest Hill Society (FHS). Rowena Lowe, our lead Planning Officer, is advising members who oppose the application of several issues she has identified that can be used in their letters of objection. These points have been shared with the FHS who have also raised concerns relating primarily to transport issues and the proposed internal layout of the accommodation.

Soon after this post, the Council arranged a community meeting to give residents an opportunity to raise their concerns about the proposed change of use with our councilors and relevant Council officers.

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