SSDC try to push Yeovil Hostel through
The controversial plans for Acacia Lodge took another turn today. South Somerset District Council (SSDC) support plans to convert the former care home into a homeless hostel. The plan goes against their own Rough Sleeper Policy for working with the homeless, which is not to use hostels. Their action plan clearly states the need for smaller units, to place homeless people where they can be safely accommodated.
The applicant is BCHA which runs the Pathways Hostel in Yeovil.
Local opposition to the plan has been overwhelming and vocal. Local residents formed the Hands of Hendford Hill (HOHH) action group to fight the application. Responses to the application included 658 objections with just 10 in favour.
In January this year a Yeovil Town Council meeting to discuss the application had to be moved to the Westland Centre. Over 150 people turned up to voice their objections. The Town Council voted to object to the plans by 8 votes to nil with three abstentions. Of course Yeovil Town Council is only a consultee, not the decision making body. The target date for a decision was initially set as November 2021. However that date has long since slipped by.
Since January then there has been no further formal discussion of the issue at SSDC. It has not appeared on Area South Planning Meeting agendas. And Area South does not usually meet in August.
Suddenly over the weekend there has been a rush of activity. An officer’s report appeared, a date was set to consider it and that date was 10 August.
Local residents and the Hands of Hendford Hill (HOHH) action group were shocked. The 10 August is of course right at the height of the holiday season. In any case, neither councillors not members of the public will have sufficient time to consider this controversial application properly in the time available.
According to HOHH “notification of this meeting went out over the last weekend (31st July), internally to SSDC, however many of our community are yet to be informed with no letters so far being sent to the 700 plus objectors to this proposal.“
Cllr Peter Gubbins is the ward member for Yeovil South and Chair of the Area South Planning Committee. The Leveller® has seen correspondence that suggests he attempted to set the meeting for 7 September. It seems those at the highest levels of SSDC are determined to bulldoze this through in the face of vocal opposition. Cllr Gubbins stated “My decision has been overruled by the Leader of the Council, Cllr Val Keitch who has decided that the 10th August would be the date of the hearing. Last week I requested three times that the date is changed to September giving the same reasons as your request to me but as to date I have had no reply. I have been approached by the ward members who also asked for September and to which I fully support but unfortunately the response is negative.”
SSDC has agreed to pay £390k towards the scheme envisaged in the application. Meaning that all councillors will, inevitably, have an effective conflict of interest. At the very least the fact SSDC have given funds, leaves a strong whiff of pre determination.
The officer’s report concludes: “The application seeks planning permission to change the use of the property from a care home to accommodation for people experiencing homelessness (sui generis). The proposals would cause no demonstrable harm to (i) character of the surrounding area, (ii) visual amenity, (iii) the setting, character and appearance of the Conservation Area (iv) the setting of any listed building (v) residential amenity vi crime and disorder, vii) highway safety.“
Perhaps the way in which this is being rushed through suggests a lack of confidence in the validity of that conclusion.