The Chair to advise the Committee of any items on which members of the public have requested to speak and advise those members of the public present of the details of the Council’s public participation scheme.
For those members of the public who have submitted any questions or statements, please note, a three minute time limit applies to each speaker and you will be asked to speak before Councillors debate the issue.
Temporary measures during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Due to the Government guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), we will holding meetings in a virtual manner which will be live webcast on our website. Members of the public will still be able to register to speak and ask questions, which will then be read out by the Governance and Democracy Case Manager during Public Question Time and will either be answered by the Chair of the Committee, or the relevant Portfolio Holder, or be followed up with a written response.
The following members of the public had requested to speak in relation to item 5.
I wish to make a formal complaint regarding the councils actions in allowing the continuation of the highly inappropriate homeless and rehabilitation encampment at Canonsgrove, Trull, a rural residential area.
As a long standing member of the local community, I have been dismayed by the lack of respect shown to the local population, the lack of governance and due diligence shown by the council and the inattention to due process and planning law consultation.
I request written confirmation of receipt of this complaint and confirmation that it will be duly considered, circulated and included in the ongoing decision making process regarding the future of the encampment. I understand that today is the last day for correspondence to be included in the March meeting.
I would like to highlight that the chief reason for my complaint is that my 3 young children have been subject to the most appalling and inappropriate sights and situations involving the residents of the encampment. I would not expect to have seen the prevalence of this type of behaviour in either inner city London or Bristol, where there is a significant police presence. The action to burden an ill-equipped rural community with the complex and dangerous issues that have been demonstrated by the inhabitants of the facility, is highly inappropriate.
I am completely outraged that as a local resident, at no stage have I been formally consulted in any way by the Council on this matter. The first correspondence to residents requesting consultation was a survey on behalf of the parish council last week. This confirms to me that there is a gross disregard for the local community and the absence of any governance, or independent audit of the process.
The local population appear to have been deliberately misled by the council that the encampment was intended an emergency measure only. This now appears to be a gross misrepresentation of the situation and an abuse of powers.
There is a clear difficulty faced by residents to accurately express their views for fear of appearing unsympathetic to the plight of the vulnerable and ‘primary homeless’. The council has actively exploited this by not holding appropriate public consultation. I therefore request that the elected councillors now whistleblow on this very poor and underhand performance by the council.
I wanted to address you about the illegal homeless settlement at Cannonsgrove for which you are responsible.
My representation is being read by an Officer of SWT which I expressly object to as you have removed my right to personal representation which I and my advisers consider ultra vires and will be the subject of further challenge.
That said, I wanted to restate my (and many others) objections to a homeless settlement at Canonsgrove.
I can’t possibly say everything I want to in 3 minutes (my full arguments are set out in my correspondence), here are my key points:
Firstly, This is a laudable and well intentioned proposal…. but…... the site is inappropriate
I am very concerned at the conduct of SWT, which has:
Set up an illegal settlement by breaching a S106 condition: you more than anyone know that ignorance is not a reasonable excuse to breach planning law. You should know better
You have conducted a flawed and prejudiced option appraisal which did not consider other sites for homeless accommodation as promised.
You have wasted (our) public money to justify your already determined result.
You have disingenuously misled residents, the options appraisal is a feasibility study to justify and enable your pre-determined decision.
We (your local residents whom you represent) are being disenfranchised by you our elected representatives.
As Council tax paying residents I/we don’t expect SWT:
to be incompetent
to breach the law when it suits you.
to flagrantly ignore the interests of your long established residents
to not consult residents in a proper and transparent manner nor mislead on a promised options appraisal with no options.
to incompetently waste our Taxes
to use our tax funding to directly adversely affect and diminish our peace and quiet, and enjoyment of where we live
to compromise our and our children safety
SWT per se should be
censured for its conduct on this matter…...
ashamed of its actions for compromising the interests of (your) local residents in favour of a very small minority.
We deserve better than this. This is undemocratic.
I call upon SWT to :
Trull Residents Group
I write on behalf of Trull Residents’ Group (TRG), having now been able to download SWT’s Options Appraisal from the Council’s website and consider its contents.
Appendix 5 of the Options Appraisal was only published yesterday, and Appendix 4 is to be published today, which is the ?nal day for comments to be submitted to the Scrutiny Committee. That has prejudiced the ability of the community to review and respond to those late additions.
Your O?cers recommend Option 1, which is a short-term extension of the lease at Canonsgrove. This would provide SWT with ?me to deliver alternative accommodation across the district, suited to the needs of homeless people in terms of its type and more central location, close to services and amenities. The lease and current use of Canonsgrove would therefore end in 2023.
Given the signi?cant community issues which the current use has caused in Staplehay, Trull and Comeytrowe, TRG would accept this option on the understanding that it is ?me-limited and that management, community safety and communication arrangements are strengthened in order to minimise further disruption over the next two years.
The Options Appraisal presents two alternative options:
TRG maintains its strong objection to Option 2, and supports your O?cers recommendation that it is not progressed. This option is for a comprehensive and sizeable redevelopment of Canonsgrove with the provision of between 105 and 157 accommodation units including a ‘hub’ for homeless people with complex needs, additional accommodation for homeless people with fewer support needs, and
60-105 additional units for students/medical professionals/care/support.
TRG has submitted professionally-informed Topic Papers to the Options Appraisal which show that Option 2 (or any such ongoing / expanded use) would be contrary to:
• Existing planning and legal restrictions on the use of the site, designed to protect
Community safety and amenity.
• Policies set out in Adopted and Emerging SWT Local Plans, the Adopted Trull Neighbourhood Plan (which forms part of the legal Development Plan) and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
• Previous SWT planning decisions on this land and on adjacent sites, which highlight the
unsustainable nature of Canonsgrove for people with restricted mobility options.
• Current best practice in terms of the size and type of homeless accommodation provision.
• Usual industry practice in evidence-based and open commissioning/procurement. Speci?cally, the use of Canonsgrove as accommodation for homeless people is contrary to Local Plan,
Neighbourhood Plan and NPPF policies relating to:
• Safe and suitable access for all users
• Sustainable access/carbon neutrality/limiting the need to travel
• Crime and the fear of crime
• Amenity and community cohesion
• Protected species
• Discrimination against people without access to motor vehicles and/or with health/
There are other matters including delays to emergency service access due to Canonsgrove being 2 ½ miles from town; impact on heritage assets; and the presence of Protected Species and Tree Preservation Orders onsite.
All of this makes Canonsgrove unsuitable for homeless accommodation. Policies require such provision to be within accessible, central locations, rather than in rural villages away from services and facilities.
Whilst it is clear that O?cers do not recommend longer-term use of the site, any decision to go against that advice and progress Option 2 would appear to be legally challengeable. Councils’ decisions have to be based on a thorough review of potential options – something which the Scrutiny Committee insisted upon when it last considered the matter, but which was overlooked by the Executive and O?cers who have instead produced a report focused on Canonsgrove.
TRG supports the identi?cation of long-term provision for homeless people across the SWT area in line with relevant policy and current best-practice. Consequently, a mix of suitable accommodation needs to be found in central locations, close to services and amenities, across the district.
It is disappointing that none of the ?ve TRG Topic Papers submitted to the Options Appraisal are mentioned in the report, unlike the submissions of various other parties.
We also note O?cers’ misrepresentation of the Trull Residents’ Survey, run by Trull Parish Council and sent to 900 households in the parish. This erroneous commentary has been added by SWT O?cers and does not re?ect the views of the Parish Council. Contrary to what is said in the Options Appraisal, the survey presented the options which were known to the Parish Council at the time. The
Reference to a ‘sizeable’ hub re?ects the words of Simon Lewis (SWT) in his earlier report to your Committee. Options Appraisal Option 2 would be of this unacceptable ‘sizeable’ scale.
The Parish Council survey shows that the vast majority of people favored either a centrally-located facility in Taunton, a Housing First approach, or smaller, dispersed accommodation. Just 0.9% of people supported a homeless accommodation ‘hub’ of scale at Canonsgrove. The comments of local residents, set out in Appendix 5d of the options Appraisal, provide powerful evidence of the serious impact and concern that the current use of the site has had on the community.
We also note that SWT O?cers have reported only two of the letters of complaint to the Council regarding Canonsgrove. That is a misrepresentation of the local community’s constant communication of issues to SWT, YMCA, the Police and other agencies. There have been 39 incidents of crime and an?-social behavior reported to the Police and 87 other occurrences of an?-social behavior reported to the Parish Council.
Trull Residents’ Group has always accepted the use of Canonsgrove as homeless accommodation during the Covid pandemic. We raise no objection to that use continuing until 2023 (Option 1 in the Options Appraisal) as recommended by your O?cers, subject to assurances regarding improved management, communication and community safety measures. This would enable SWT to provide a range of more-suitable accommodation in central, accessible locations across the district during the intervening period.
TRG cannot support any long-term use of the site for homeless accommodation (Option 2). Such a use would be contrary to adopted policy, best-practice in provision, and previous planning decisions in the area. It would not deliver best outcomes for homeless people, and it would set a precedent for unsustainable development in rural areas, undermining the Local Plan and Neighborhood Plan. Due to the restricted scope of the Options Appraisal, it is probable that any decision to support Option 2 would be legally challengeable.
Consequently, we respectfully ask Councillors to protect the interests of homeless people and the wider community by supporting Option 1 and working to ?nd the required range of homeless accommodation solutions in central, accessible areas across the district.
Thank-you once again for your time considering our submissions. Yours sincerely
Trull Residents Group
I was very pleased to read Mark Leeman’s comprehensive report. I agree, unfortunately, hostels are still the most common accommodation projects in the country. They might be the most viable financial option in the short term, even this is debatable; but that doesn’t make them the best option for clients or produce the best outcomes. I would hope that, more increasingly, smaller housing options are used which replicate the living conditions enjoyed by most. For this reason I was disappointed to learn that there will only be a very limited pilot of Housing First provision. Very successful pilots are already in place across the country so I wonder why such a cautious approach is being taken? Housing first has been proven to be particularly beneficial for clients with complex needs who have been evicted or voluntarily left hostel provision repeatedly.
I support Option 1. I have always felt that Canonsgrove is too far from the town centre. The winter months emphasise the inappropriateness. Who wants to walk or cycle into town in cold, wet and windy weather? As a local resident who would like to rely more on public transport I have found that the irregularity of buses makes this very difficult. Some residents could remain at Canonsgrove for considerable periods of time. I could understand a “Somewhere Safe to Stay Assessment Hub” being placed there. A small, safe, nurturing environment where needs could be assessed before placement in the appropriate long- term provision. The key here is that the client would know that it would be a short, finite time spent in a rural environment. If there is a call from some clients for non-town centre accommodation it could be provided in smaller multi-occupancy housing placed within a community, not on the outskirts which, to my mind, is socially isolating.
The 2 year lease gives time to work towards achieving the best outcome for those finding themselves homeless and, hopefully, for improved communication with the local community. Despite the Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation on November 4th last year:
“…..any options appraisal must be open, transparent and a forward looking review of all potential sites. Any appraisals involving Canonsgrove should be communicated with both Trull and Comeytrowe Parish Council as well as local residents”
Following the above SWT argued that Trull could not be given special treatment as other areas within Taunton would also be affected. In the event it has been admitted that there was no time to consider any other site. Canonsgrove has been at the centre of the OA as we had always suspected. Obviously that does not constitute an open, transparent OA, even to a layperson such as myself.
At the last Trull Parish Council Meeting Jonica Walkinshaw, representing the YMCA, mentioned the adversarial tone of communication surrounding Canonsgrove. I believe the blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of SWT.
When a community is denied any democratic input into plans which will directly affect them it is inevitable that mistrust is engendered. PR newsletters do not listen to concerns. Prepared Q and A sessions within a Parish Council meeting (some answered, some answered evasively, others not answered at all) do not represent a two way discussion. SWT have shown little respect for the concerns of the community.
It is important that, over the next 2 years, there is real communication between all parties. I believe that a small committee involving representatives from YMCA, SWT, the local church, Trull Parish Council and Trull Residents Group is necessary. Together, in a non-combative way, they could work together to achieve the best outcome for the vulnerable, both within Canonsgrove and the village, whilst the long-term future of the former is being pursued.
I write with regards to item number 9 on your agenda for the Scrutiny Meeting to be held on 3rd March 2021 “Options appraisal for delivering future single rough sleeper and homelessness accommodation in SWT”;
In the Options Appraisal it mentions that the YMCA has been supported by SWT in a successful bid for funding in order to buy the Gascony Hotel in Minehead. This will house 18 clients. If the Executive Committee decided to go against the Officer recommendation and go with Option 2 it would appear to all intents and purposes that YMCA would be the preferred provider for the district.
Yet we have another provider with much experience in this field and an in-depth knowledge of the town, built over 40 years. That provider is ARC, formerly Taunton Association for the homeless.
Alongside that experience and knowledge, they have capital reserves with which to respond to SWT’s requirements following the Options Appraisal and are eager to help.
-They are financed via Housing Benefit rather than Government grants in the main. This means that they retain their independence rather than being beholden to government money that can come to an end or suffer cuts. This business model allows better levels of sustainability.
- Their Housing Benefit Bill to DWP IS £280/month from April 21, a rate that is favourable to DWP.
-ARC have a resident qualified GP offering direct primary healthcare who has worked with them for some years and have requests for rooms in their centre from a number of agencies including DWP, Mental Health, Nursing, Counselling etc
-Their current manager at Lindley House is very experienced in homeless issues and has been working directly with people who find themselves homeless in Taunton for 19 years.
What is unique about the provision and work at Canonsgrove? It would appear to be the standard now required of anyone dedicatedly working with supporting people who find themselves homeless. The YMCA Canonsgrove Housing Benefit Bill per person per week is “£369.52”, almost a third higher than that at Lindley House run by ARC. The YMCA provision at Canonsgrove also incurs a bill for 3 meals a day per person whereas Lindley House have onsite kitchens and a chef creating meals from food donations.
I would expect to see all these factors taken into consideration within the Options Appraisal, not only as an assessment of Canonsgrove but within a true Options Appraisal which compares offers by any prospective provider. A local government site describes an options appraisal as a “technique for reviewing options” and further says “the pros and cons of each of these ways to be considered in terms of the benefits (financial or non -financial) that they can deliver”. It is a comparison process not a let’s look at one, decide for/against and then look at what other options we have.
This SWT Options Appraisal as designed is highly challengeable. There have been repeated claims that this is a prejudicial appraisal process. It has now been admitted by SWT that there has not been time to assess all other options within the appraisal process, just Canonsgrove.
If SWT are to get the best provision for people that find themselves homeless, there needs to be an appraisal of all options alongside each other so that all strengths and weaknesses of providers are considered.
I end with three questions. Do councillors really feel that this Options Appraisal has been honest, integral, open and transparent? Do councillors really feel that this Options Appraisal evidences the best council practice? Has it responded to the Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation from November 2020 that any appraisals involving Canonsgrove should involve communication with Trull and Comeytrowe?