A decision on proposals to change the use of The Lord Lister Hotel in Hitchin into a supported accommodation for the homeless has been deferred by North Herts Council's Planning Control Committee.

Members of the committee sought to consult the Highways authority on a proposed barrier to access the site, and required further information from Herts police regarding reports of anti-social behaviour, before making its decision.

Lord Lister has been operating as a homeless provision by the applicant, Keystage Housing, since December 2021, and has been met with a raft of complaints and objections from local residents, citing incidents of late night noise and anti-social behaviour of clients, as well as traffic concerns.

At the long-awaited meeting last night, speakers opposing and supporting the application put their points to the committee.

Objector Scott Moyer, on behalf of his "family, neighbours and community", highlighted "indisputable" errors in the application, and spoke about the impact the installation of a gate would have on pedestrians and traffic, as well as personal experiences.

"My wife, two teenage daughters and I have been frequently subjected to late night disturbances since the change of use," he said.

"A sample of these events include playing loud music, residents shouting and swearing and hearing a resident have some form of breakdown, pleading for help with no-one coming to their aid."

Member advocate for the ward, Cllr Keith Hoskins, highlighted the number of concerns raised to councillors.

He said: "Planning permission should not be granted unless the council is satisfied that the proposed use would be able to successfully co-exist with existing businesses and neighbours. There's a huge question mark as to whether this is the correct location for this facility.

He went on to say: "The requirement of the local authority to address homelessness should not be a reason to grant an application that is fundamentally in the wrong location.

"The right to privacy and peaceful enjoyment of home and property, which is protected under common and statute law, is reason enough alone to refuse this application."

Councillor Clare Strong also objected, saying: "The community adjacent to the Lord Lister building were not consulted before it opened as a hostel and, when it did, they have reported the impact the change of use has had on their lives as we've heard tonight."

Founder of Keystage Housing James O'Grady said: "This application is truly about people and at Keystage we've helped over 1,400 people leave homelessness in just a few years.

"The average age of death for a homeless man is 46, and 42 for a homeless woman. That's nearly half of today's life expectancy.

"With almost 200 people being placed in emergency accommodation in this area through the pandemic, there's a great need for homeless accommodation to change what is a serious problem.

"We can't change someone's past, but we can give an opportunity for their future by giving them space, time and support.

"I ask that you support this application and allow us to be upstanding for those unable to stand up for themselves, and offer hope where there is clearly despair.

"We do recognise the many fears and concerns and perceived anti-social behaviour expressed by our community. We have listened, we have learned and we have understood."

Following a debate among committee members, the decision on whether to approve or deny planning permission was deferred to a later meeting.

The Comet: Councillor Val Bryant, chair of the planning control committeeCouncillor Val Bryant, chair of the planning control committee (Image: North Herts Council)

Cllr Val Bryant, chair of the planning control committee, explained: “The application was deferred due to the need to consult the Highways Authority on the proposal to add a barrier to the entrance to the car park and to request further information from the police regarding anti-social behaviour incidents reported by residents at the meeting.

"We will review the information provided by the Highways Authority and the wider comment from the police regarding anti-social behaviour incidents at a future Planning Control Committee meeting, date to be confirmed.”

People can continue to send their views via email and post, at PO Box 0613, NG6 6DW, or planning.control@north-herts.gov.uk, until the Planning Control Committee date is confirmed.

The meeting can be viewed on the council's YouTube channel.