Former Shefford care home to house families in need

PUBLISHED: 14:01 01 December 2018

The Birches care home in Shefford. Picture: Google Street View

The Birches care home in Shefford. Picture: Google Street View

Archant

A former Shefford care home is to be turned into temporary housing for local people in need of a roof over their head.

The Birches in Hitchin Road will provide families and individuals with short-term accommodation, while they are supported by Central Bedfordshire Council in finding a more permanent property.

The local authority’s proposals involve converting the old care home layout to provide 13 self-contained flats and four individual rooms with shared facilities.

It will be a mixed-use premises with eight family flats, office accommodation and 17 parking spaces, planning officer Debbie Wilcox told a meeting of the council’s development management committee.

“It’s my understanding it’s very specifically for residents of Central Bedfordshire and even more so for those of the Ivel Vale,” she said.

The office space will be used by housing staff, with an additional hot desk for other council employees, according to a report to the committee.

A garage and workshop block are due to be demolished to make way for extra parking facilities.

Shefford town councillor Paul Mackin said it was understood there would be 24/7 on site security, not just a casual arrangement.

“We recently heard about problems Bedford Borough is having from the 400 people rehomed from London boroughs.

“How long is it before we are going to get some of those dropping in?” he asked.

“The change of use will alter the character of the site, as has been admitted within the documents.

“Concerns about increased crime and anti-social behaviour are very high on Shefford’s agenda after the problems we had last year, with people who were rehomed into the area from outside, and the amount of police time it cost.

“Access to the site is very poor and if it goes ahead we would like to see a separate access provided.”

The council’s head of housing management Carol Rooker said: “We’ve been trying to secure a range of accommodation across the area to help applicants remain where possible in their local communities.

“When The Birches became empty it provided the chance to bring the property back into use.

“At present, some homeless families have to move to Dunstable or Houghton Regis or even further afield, which disrupts their support network, their work or their school journeys.

“Housing staff are committed to ensuring The Birches is well-managed and that the residents have minimal impact on the local community.

“They will just want to get on with their normal lives,” she added.

“In most cases they have fallen on hard times, have had their private rented accommodation ended, or their families have asked them to move becasue they’re overcrowded.

“We have agreed that any residents at The Birches will be low risk in relation to the location of the scheme and the residential nature of the area.

“We have people who come through the door for homelessness, those who need transitional accommodation and a third stage where they need to move on to a secondary property.

“And you can be certain we will work tirelessly to make sure there are no problems.”

Conservative Dunstable Watling councillor Nigel Young said he was glad to hear her contradict a concern that “residents of this type of housing are from dysfunctional, vulnerable families that attract criminals who prey on them with drugs, alcohol and prostitution”.

He added: “From what you tell us that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.”

The Birches older persons’ home was one of five care homes owned by the council.

Its facilities and accommodation were considered to no longer meet the expectations of customers and regulators.

When a new care home, Oak Manor, was built in Shefford it enabled the local authority to offer places there as an alternative to the residents.

The aim will be to move people on from The Birches within five to six months, the committee heard.

Conservative Shefford councillor Tony Brown said there has been reassurance that anyone misbehaving will be relocated.

“We (ward councillors) support this proposal as a temporary solution to cover the immediate needs.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark said: “I feel really saddened that there is this great level of fear in the local community about providing small flats for people who are in a pretty desperate situation.

“I am just really sorry that we find ourselves in this situation. I support this application.”

Conservative Toddington councillor Tom Nicols said: “Although there is a great deal of noise about it, I sense most people have some sensitivity to the issue.

“I don’t think the audience are against the prime objective of it.”

But he described the parking area and driveway as “an unreasonable change of use” saying: “It does devastate the back garden and I cannot understand it.”

Councillor Young agreed and asked for a detailed parking plan to be included to see how much of the garden can be kept.

All the accommodation on the ground floor will be suitable for use by disabled

people.

Councillors approved the change of use of The Birches care home with 11 votes in favour, one against, with one abstention.

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