Neighbours were misled over safe house, councillors claim

Published on: 30 Jan 2017

A PROPERTY  in  Stapleton has been used by Bristol City Council for more than a year to house vulnerable women and children even though it  did not have a licence or planning permission.

The situation at Beechwood House, opposite Colston's School, came to light when councillors were asked to grant permission to turn it into emergency accommodation, converting and extending it  to provide nine self-contained units.

Members of the development control committee were told that the authority's housing department had been placing people there since 2015 even though no application had been made to the council either for planning permission for change of use or a licence for use as a Home of Multiple Occupancy (HMO).

Eastville councillor Mhairi Threlfall said that even by the day of the meeting in January the operator of the property, Gerard Phillips, had still not applied for an HMO licence. She acknowledged that there was a severe shortage of temporary accommodation in Bristol but said she and local residents had grave concerns about the way Beechwood House was being run.

Councillor Threlfall and fellow ward councillor Sultan Khan said local people had been misled over the use of the property, which was once a doctor's surgery, and called for strict conditions and house rules.

The committee heard that many written objections to the proposal had been received, as well as many letters of support from people who wanted to ensure that homeless pregnant women and those with young children had a safe place to go.

Jeremy McCullough, headmaster of Colston's School, said in his submission to the council that the school had no objection to emergency accommodation as much-needed social care provision.

“We are particularly concerned that any use does not conflict with the safety and safeguarding of our school children and we were extremely concerned by the applicant's previous proposals for a 'drug rehabilitation centre'. In the event of this revised planning application being granted we would want to ensure stringent conditions are applied to ensure the use is properly regulated and controlled and to avoid the possibility of any surreptitious change of use taking place,” he said.

Heather Falconer, on behalf of the applicant, told the committee said the accommodation was far better for the occupants than bed and breakfast hostels or budget hotels. She said it was a misconception that the property would be used to house anyone other than vulnerable women and expectant mothers.

Councillor Stephen Clarke said it was an incredible oversight that the planning application had come so long after the authority started using the property and Councillor Fabian Breckels, who was chairing the meeting, said he found it deplorable.

Nevertheless, members voted unanimously in favour of granting permission, subject to conditions.

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