A former Worthing care home is set to be converted into temporary accommodation for people facing homelessness.
Worthing Borough Council has purchased 151 Rowlands Road, which was last used by Masonic women, and is planning to create 19 affordable units to reduce its reliance on bed and breakfasts.
The council’s own planning committee deferred the application last month as members had raised questions about the low number of family homes and requested more information on sound and heat insulation.
When it came back to the committee on Wednesday (September 18) officers said no changes to the application had been made, but they had sought to provide more information.
Councillors unanimously approved the plans, with one saying he did so ‘with a heavy heart’.
The proposal is for one bedsit (one person), ten one-bedroom flats (one person), four one-bedroom flats (two people), two two-bedrooms (three people) and two two-bedrooms (four people).
Afterwards Darren Bloom, one of the objectors, asked why his question asking why the council had not acted on the committee’s recommendations to prioritise accommodation for families had not been answered during the meeting.
There was a suggestion afterwards that this was because to take down internal walls to make more two-bedroom apartments would be more costly.
He felt it made sense as a family neighbourhood to predominantly house families into the area, raised questions about the large number of people who could be living on the site thereby ‘radically changing the demographic of the street’ and criticised the council for not consulting with them about the project beforehand.
He added: “I hope that they do house people in genuine need at the property and the amenity of our area remains congenial.”
During the meeting he and other objectors had questioned why the council was sacrificing the comfort of future residents and greater sustainability measures in order to cram in as many units as possible.
ECE Planning’s Karen Tipper, agent for the scheme, said the conversion would be ‘to standard and of a high quality’, with new internal walls and roof quilt insulation.
Most of the meeting was taken up by questions to Akin Akinyebo, the council’s head of housing. He explained how the council has a statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation to people who present as homeless.
Paul High (Con, Heene), chairman of the committee, said: “Can you categorically assure this committee that this premises if it gets permission will not be full of 19 single people with no children who have committed some sort of crime like it’s a hostel for wayward persons?”
Mr Akinyebo said he could not give that assurance because as head of housing he could fall foul of the Equalities Act.
However he did try and distinguish between people who needed temporary accommodation like this scheme and those who required supported housing.
Mr High replied: “I believe I’m speaking on behalf of the committee who would have liked to have seen more family units there. Can you talk us through why there is not any more two-bedroom units?”
Mr Akinyebo described how those needing temporary accommodation were roughly a 50-50 split between families and single people.
However in every case they carry out an individual assessment and decisions about where to place people are made on the basis of need.
He added: “We will only place people in that accommodation where it is suitable for them.”
He also pointed out that being council-run meant they would have more control over the property’s operation.
Jim Deen (Lab, Central) said: “It does seem to me that the balance is still not right.”
Both Helen Silman (Lab, Heene) and Steve Wills (Con, Castle) also backed more two bedroom units, but reluctantly voted in favour of the application.
Cllr Wills said: “Unfortunately I will go with it, but it will be with a heavy heart.”
But Bob Smytherman (LDem, Tarring) was more enthusiastic about the project. He said: “I think this is really, really important for this town and I really would like to see this go forward.”
The application was approved unanimously.