‘No choice’ says Council in homeless row

Plans to ease Newham’s housing crisis by moving homeless families out of the Borough to Chatham have angered the Kent town’s leaders who accuse Newham of “people dumping”.

By Aidan White

Anchorage House, a residential housing block
Anchorage House, Chatham

But Newham has hit back saying the scale of the homelessness crisis in the Borough means they have little choice. Chatham Council leaders say the plan to move 81 families on Newham’s homeless register into temporary accommodation in the town will only put fresh pressure on the area’s own social services.

They are now calling for the government to change the law that allows boroughs like Newham to bypass local planning rules and to move people without consultation.

But a Newham Council spokesperson told Newham Voices: “Newham, like much of London, is experiencing an acute housing crisis and we have seen an almost 50 percent rise in homelessness presentations over the past two years.

“There is also an increasing shortage of suitable homes in Newham, making it incredibly difficult to house families in the Borough despite our best efforts.”

Council £4 million overspent

The depth of the problem has also been reflected in the increased costs of paying for the sudden rise in homelessness. Councillors were told at the last Cabinet meeting that this year’s budget for temporary accommodation costs is already overspent by £4.2 million.

Using places outside the Borough to provide homes for our neediest families is not new, but the strength of opposition in Chatham to the use of the converted office block Anchorage House for temporary homes has underlined the nature of Britain’s country-wide housing crisis.

Medway Council which covers Chatham already receives the most homeless households from London local authorities according to an investigation by the specialist housing publication Inside Housing.

Council leaders say moving more of London’s homeless families into the town puts more pressure on their own social and welfare services and makes it harder for them to house their own homeless families.

Adrian Gulvin, the leader of Medway Council’s Conservative Group, criticised the Newham plan. He said he was not attacking the families who are being moved. “But what we are seeing is people dumping.”

Medway’s Conservative Council has asked the government to “urgently” review the policy of permitted development rights, a system that has long been controversial because developments, like the conversion of the Anchorage House office block for Newham, do not need to go through the full local planning process during which councils can scrutinise the level of suitability for residential properties.

Newham is using Theori Housing Management Services, a company that specialises in work with councils, to provide short and longer-term temporary accommodation for homeless people.

The Newham spokesperson added: “We are working with an external management agency to provide homes at Anchorage House for families who would otherwise face the uncertainty of life in hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation.

“There will be a daily on-site management presence as well as regular inspections of the property and we will work closely with Medway Council to provide ongoing support as needed.”