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Housing help for the Borough's most vulnerable residents gets the green light

Plans to increase the quality and quantity of accommodation for some of West Devon's most vulnerable residents got the go ahead today, 14 December 2021.

A hand holding a house door key

Councillors at the West Devon Borough Council Development Management meeting approved a planning application to build 11 new homes to be used as temporary accommodation at Spring Hill, Tavistock. The new flats will help meet the acute need for safe, comfortable and modern homes for local people, including families, young people entering or leaving the care system, people who are homeless and those with additional support needs. 

The site, owned by West Devon Borough Council, currently offers nine properties designated by covenant for use by people who are homeless. The properties have been empty since 2018 as the properties are no longer fit for purpose, with people in need of temporary accommodation instead being housed in B&Bs or holiday accommodation.

With planning now approved, the new development will involve the demolition of the existing building to be rebuilt on a larger footprint. This will result in the creation of 11 self-contained apartments with a mix of range of 1- and 2-bedroom units to maximise flexibility. The project represents the Council's ambition and commitment to providing the highest quality homeless accommodation provision possible at this site for the district.

The construction programme remains unclear at this time with completion anticipated for 2023. The next step is for the works to be tendered to enable a suitable Contractor to be appointed. 

In West Devon, 21 families have been placed into temporary accommodation over the last 12 months. With no alternatives currently available, these families are provided with B&B or holiday accommodation at an average cost per week per family of £500-£750. In addition, the last 12 months has seen 31 singles or couples housed in temporary accommodation by West Devon Borough Council, with the average B&B cost of £450-£600 per week.

Providing safe, comfortable homes is vital for the health and wellbeing of families and individuals who often find themselves homeless through no fault of their own.

Shelter highlights that: Children who have been in temporary accommodation for more than a year are over three times more likely to demonstrate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression than non-homeless children.

Young people experiencing homelessness are also extremely vulnerable and face many challenges. The Impact of Homelessness on Health - A Guide for Local Authorities says:

  • homelessness is often a consequence of relationship breakdown
  • they lack relationship and independent living skills, formal support and struggle to access services
  • they are more likely to have experienced trauma, abuse and other adverse experiences
  •  they are more likely to have been absent and/or excluded from school, and not be in education, employment or training (NEET)
  • there are high levels of self-reported mental health problems, self-harm, drug and alcohol use
  • there is an increased risk of exploitation, abuse and trafficking, and involvement in gang and/or criminal activity
  • they are at more risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies and can come under pressure to exchange sex for food, shelter, drugs and money

Nationally, official statistics found that homelessness experienced by families with dependent children increased by 56% between 2009/10 and 2015/16.

Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council said:

"The flats at Spring Hill were used for a significant number of years as self-contained, temporary accommodation for homeless households with a connection to West Devon. Since its closure, the Council has relied upon expensive holiday accommodation and bed and breakfasts at significant cost to the public purse to fulfil its homeless duties.

"Often this accommodation is out of the Borough or in remote locations with little public transport. This upheaval can be traumatic for children as they may be housed far away from their schools, extended families and support networks. This is in addition to the reality of being homeless.

"With these plans for Spring Hill approved, we can now press ahead to provide safe and comfortable homes for our most vulnerable neighbours and positively contribute to their health and wellbeing. As well as the significant health benefits, we can also reduce the financial burden for the taxpayer by providing better accommodation at a much lower cost, which is good news for the whole community."

To ensure the new building is in keeping with the heritage surroundings, the stone from the existing building will be reused to face the new building. Whilst the traditional character of the building will be maintained, essential steps to reduce the carbon footprint of the building and future-proof it will also be followed, including installing solar thermal and solar PV panels.

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