Daventry councillors hope homeless hostel idea can be explored by unitary replacement after 'running out of time'

Daventry councillors hope plans for a new hostel to tackle homelessness will be taken on by the proposed new West Northants authority.

By James Averill
Saturday, 6th April 2019, 8:30 am
Daventry District Council 'no longer has the time' to look into proposals for a homeless hostel in the area
Daventry District Council 'no longer has the time' to look into proposals for a homeless hostel in the area

The district council explored the idea in response to the growing number of approaches it receives for emergency accommodation, and the costly fees it is paying for bed and breakfasts.

Before April 2017, the authority had roughly 200 homeless approaches each year, but between April and December 2018 the number rose to 416.

Speaking on Tuesday (April 2) at a scrutiny committee meeting, portfolio holder Councillor Richard Auger said: “Bed and breakfast is unsettling for clients, so it’s not the ideal option. So the demand is for a flexible hostel, and we’ve had many discussions on the feasibility of this.

“There’s a will to progress this but it would take 18 to 24 months to provide it on current estimates, and there are challenges finding housing association partners to manage it. We would also need to find and adapt a building suitable enough.”

The committee was told that the council had ‘run out of time’ to explore the idea. Daventry District Council is set to be abolished, along with South Northamptonshire district, Northampton borough and Northamptonshire county councils to make way for a new unitary West Northamptonshire Council where services would be merged in April 2020.

Councillor Auger said: “We would not be able to deliver this before unitary, but it’s probably something for the shadow body that will come into force in 12 months to begin to look at.

“This idea isn’t off the table, but we simply don’t have the time to do it. I would not want to start a project that could not be fulfilled.”

But with the Government yet to make a decision on the unitary proposals, and with more parliamentary time being dedicated to Brexit, there are genuine fears the process could be delayed by a year.

Scrutiny committee member Cllr Ken Ritchie said: “We don’t know whether this reorganisation will happen, but we have known about this uncertainty for some time. Are our teams not working closely with the other teams in the county on these issues at the moment?

“I would have thought that even if we weren’t considering a reorganisation, that there was still a case for some kind of joined-up approach. Should we be putting this on hold for what could be another full year?”

But Maria Taylor, executive director for the community, said there were ‘many shifting circumstances’ which meant she could not put a business case forward at the moment.

The increase in demand for emergency accommodation had been ‘expected’ as a result of the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which forced local councils to adopt a much wider duty of care for homeless people than they had before.

Prior to the new legislation, there had been nine people in temporary accommodation, whereas now there were 32, of which 24 are in bed and breakfasts.

She said: “If things settle back to how they were then there wouldn’t be a case, because I’d be spending less than £100,000 a year on bed and breakfasts, compared to the current spend which is £400,000.

“I have to make a case that stands up to scrutiny. It’s too risky to make that leap.”