Westover Residents along Wembdon Road became concerned at a recent planning application relating to Number 27 (Tower House) made by the ARC Charity for a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), especially after rumours spread across social media concerning the possible use and potential occupants and its proximity to the nearby school. Westover councillor Brian Smedley met with resident spokespeople and then arranged a wider meeting with ARC, Sedgemoor Homeless section and Planning officers to get the facts. The minutes of the meeting are printed in full here.
Planning application number: 08/22/00015/LE (access here)
Proposal: Conversion of reception room to a bedroom for 7no. to 8no. bed HMO.
Location: 27 Wembdon Road, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA6 7DJ
Registered : 2/3/2022-applicant ARC ( a homeless charity)
Earliest decision: 13/4/22
Meeting notes ‘27 Wembdon Road, Bridgwater’
Held at Bridgwater Town Hall 3.30pm Wednesday 23rd March 2022
Present; – Cllr Brian Smedley (Chair) Amy Storey (sec) x11 named residents + reps from Sedgemoor District Council (Dawn DeVries-Planning, Sarah Stillwell-Homeless officer) + ARC Martin Ball, Rosie Hather, R Singh, Jo Pearce
INTODUCTION; Councillor Brian Smedley opened the meeting by introducing everyone and explaining the planning application and the planning procedure. He explained that as Westover ward Councillor on the Town Planning panel he had asked Town Council to raise an objection in order that the topic be publicly debated. He explained that the other Westover Councillor Kathy Pearce was on the Sedgemoor Development (planning) Committee which took the final decision and could therefore not take part in meetings that might ‘predetermine’ her vote.
BACKGROUND: Residents of Wembdon Road and parents from the Westover Green School have expressed their concerns regarding the planning application. 08/22/00015/LE Conversion of reception room to a bedroom for 7no. to 8no. bed HMO.27 Wembdon Road, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA6 7DJ
Sarah Stilwell from Sedgemoor District Council, Housing and Homeless Manager explained her role, which is to give housing advice and find housing for those that need it. There is a high amount of homelessness. Sarah works with many organizations such as Arc, YMCA and Julian House to meet the needs of individuals who are seeking housing and to find suitable properties. Sarah and her team travel around the district and find housing which meets the service users needs. They also help the individuals to find housing independently. They also work with ARC who are a homeless charity and have properties in Bridgwater. They deal with anyone who needs housing advice – landlords, homeless, those who need financial advice etc. Sedgemoor District Council and Arc have a joint discussion on whether an area is suitable.
Sophie Kemp asked if at this stage they had considered whether the development would impact the school and whether anyone at the council recommended that Arc purchase the property.
Sarah said she didn’t see any reason why it would impact the school but that the planning application process is separate to Homes in Sedgemoor. In relation to the Wembdon rd property nothing has been decided yet.
Residents agreed it was good what they do to help those who needed housing; however, they need to consider the location they put the individuals in.
Reps from ARC responded noting there has been a FOI request regarding funding also ARC reserved the right to respond in writing to questions already asked plus those asked today. Arc appreciate the concerns and wish to positively engage. They will write a written response to all questions within 10 days. They mentioned that suitable properties are hard to find and 27 Wembdon Road is a suitable property for the plans they have. Arc take people off the streets and help them find a home. Those housed at 27 Wembdon Road will be local people. They explained that being homeless is not a crime and those housed at Wembdon Road will be a long-term residency in order to help them move on with their lives. There will be a CCTV system in place, 24-hour staffing and security. This will all be covered in the pack that they are sending to the residents.
Residents said they feel the environment isn’t the best place for this sort of housing due to the school being directly behind the property. There are vulnerable children in the school/nursery alongside vulnerable adults who will potentially be moving into the property. The residents explained it is the worst place having vulnerable adults and children next to each other and an automatic risk.
However, Arc disagreed and didn’t think it was an automatic risk.
Residents raised concerns that the property might be used as a half-way house
Sarah Stillwell said it wouldn’t be a ‘half-way house’ as it would not be used for temporary accommodation, nor for people released into an approved premise.
Residents raised concerns that those who have recently left prison will be housed at 27 Wembdon Road.
Sarah Stilwell explained that there is a separate protocol for this type of re-homing and said therefore there would not be individuals released from prison housed there.
Residents asked if at some future time could they place somebody in there who had previously been to prison?
Sarah answered ‘potentially’.
A resident said that inaccurate Information has been flying around the school about the type of people who will be homed at the property.
It has been requested that Arc provide the residents with a definition in writing on who is going and the reasoning.
It was asked why this property had 24-hour staffing, but their other properties didn’t.
This was due to not being able to have an office in the other properties. The CCTV is streamed to the offices.
Residents believe this will simply push the behavior away from the areas where the CCTV is.
ARC said that the high-risk needs are different person-to-person and will need to be looked at individually. ARC cannot give a definition of a high-risk person as everyone is different. They cannot say who will be housed there until they have a referral come in.
Residents feared that having vulnerable students close by can bring predators to the area. There are 14 vulnerable students directly on the back of the property within the Autism unit. The residents and school would like to be assured that its a safe place for the children.
The residents requested to have these issues responded to in writing from Arc.
Jason Eveleigh from Westover Green School said that the school was unaware of the planning application and only heard it from the parents.
Dawn DeVries explained that if they were outside the area on their system they will not be notified. Dawn will check who was consulted. She did mention that planning application had been advertised through many streams. The original listing description has been changed and updated on the website Friday 18th March. Nothing is done during the consultation period.
Dawn DeVries explained that HMO up to 5 beds do not need planning application, but anything over 5 bed HMO does. However, they still need licensing via Sedgemoor to meet the requirements. The licensing requirements are being sent over to Arc.
Dawn said that she believed that SDC have met the statutory requirements for informing people but will speak to Stuart Houlet (Head of Planning) on the procedure due to suggestions that the school had not been informed. Dawn explained you can subscribe on the SDC website to receive planning applications in your area. However, Dawn agreed that the school and nursery will be added as a non-statutory consultee.
Dawn explained the planning application process to the residents. If SDC support the planning application but the parish council (Bridgwater Town Council) does not it will go to a full development committee meeting to be discussed. The same applied if a District Ward Councillor objected. If you wish to speak at the development committee, you must register online. One person, for and one against will have 3 minutes to speak. To get a site visit, it must be agreed at the meeting (proposed & seconded followed by a vote). Applicants can appeal. If approved there is no 3rd party right of appeal. Dawn will get a list of consultees. Those aged under 18 are not considered in the 5 bed HMO, meaning 5 adults and 5 children could live there without a planning application.
Residents have requested an impact assessment and for it to include who’s in there.
One of the residents suggested that nothing was stopping ARC starting the HMO as a 5-bed occupancy, seeing if it works well in the area, and if successful to then apply for an increase in occupancy.
Arc said they would look into this separately as it would be a different business case.
A resident asked what happens if it has a negative impact on the vulnerable children and their families.
Arc explained they are unable to answer at this current time.
A mission statement from Arc was also requested by a resident. As well as this, the residents would also like to receive a list of surrounding houses, or another 8 bed HMO with the outlines of the property that is working well, and if any others boarder a school.
Arc will give this in a written response.
The residents would like to have the responses before their next meeting.
It was asked if they work with police and if they would be consulted on who is going in.
Dawn said that one of the statutory consultees is the Police.
Residents were also concerned that the elderly would be unaware of this planning application.
Dawn said that they were reviewing the scope of neighbour consultation.
Cllr Smedley said that the meeting had reached a natural conclusion and should reconvene once we had key replies
- A written response from ARC
- An update from Planning regarding procedure followed and consultees engaged
The meeting ended at 16.45