Ponders End homeless shelter approved despite local opposition

The temporary shelter will be limited to two years after concerns were raised about its impact on antisocial behaviour, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

John Wilkes House
John Wilkes House

Plans to create a temporary homeless shelter in Ponders End have been approved – but with its proposed use changed from five to two years after concerns were raised about its local impact.

The shelter will be opened within a former Enfield Council office block and is designed for 36 homeless men, but the scheme drew a number of concerns from residents and councillors over fears it would exacerbate the local area’s antisocial behaviour issue.

The council submitted the plans to change the now-vacant office building John Wilkes House into a “rapid assessment and resettlement hub” for homeless, single men with “low needs”. 

The building at 79 High Street, Ponders End, is set to emulate a similar project in Edmonton, the ‘Somewhere Safe to Stay Hub’, which won the council an award at the London Homelessness Awards last year. 

The proposal was for temporary use of the site lasting five years and offering short-term accommodation to homeless people for generally up to five or six weeks.

However, during a planning committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday 18th) councillors and local residents raised concerns the project would exacerbate the area’s issues with antisocial behaviour.

Ward councillor Nicki Adeleke said: “There’s been a number of residents, I think about 300 or so, who have signed a petition against the decision. 

“The ward already has an ongoing issue in terms of antisocial behaviour, crime, begging on the street, and there are concerns adding this [facility] might exacerbate those problems.

“The area is quite residential so there are concerns from residents about the safety of their family and children.”

Cllr Adeleke concluded there was scepticism over how well the hostel would maintain “community safety and wellbeing”, some residents reported not receiving consultation papers, and there was mistrust over the council voting on a plan it had submitted. 

Richard Sorenson, head of the council’s housing advisory service, said it was “important” to emphasise the reasons people became homeless and Enfield’s current problem with homelessness. 

He explained reasons included being evicted by a landlord due to rent increases and a relationship breakdown, with these being “the two biggest causes of homelessness”. 

Richard said: “The conception that there is always something wrong with the individual who becomes homeless is really quite concerning.”

The building is on a junction with Orchard Road, a residential street, and residents attending the meeting interrupted on occasion to vocalise their objections. 

Robert Brassett, chair of the Friend of Durants and Ponders End Parks, alleged of the 210 consultation letters sent out by the council “only half of those were received”.  

Robert said: “John Wilkes House currently has people sitting around this facility drinking alcohol and smoking weed everyday and there are beggars around the shops close to the location. 

“This facility is also close to three local schools, children travel backwards and forwards along that area everyday.”

He concluded Ponders End already had its “fair share of hostels” and believed plans like this should be “evenly spread around the borough and not always in Ponders End”. 

Jodie Rudgley, rapid assessment and resettlement team manager, reiterated the plan was for “low risk” people, clarifying those with sexual offences would not be allowed at the facility and that the occupants would not be “allowed visitors” onsite. 

Karen Page, head of planning, reminded councillors “when it comes to behaviour of the occupants that’s an operational matter”. She said if issues occurred the management team couldn’t handle, it would be for the police or the antisocial behaviour team to manage. 

Michael Rye, deputy opposition leader, commented on the “substanstantial” change of use and doubted the “justification” for the plan, describing it as a “convenient solution”.

Following the discussion, Cllr Rye proposed a motion to reduce the five years in the plans proposed to two. This was seconded by Labour councillor Bektas Ozer and voted on with six in favour, three against and one abstention.

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