But Hotel du Vin are not happy
Exeter City Council planners last night unanimously approved plans to transform the former Spice Island restaurant on Magdalen Street into a ‘winter night shelter and community facility for homeless people’, and for a large temporary outbuilding and a toilet block in the corner of Howell Road car park to be built.
The committee heard the council’s own plans would have ‘great public benefits by contributing to social inclusion, reduce deprivation and support homeless and rough sleepers when they are most vulnerable’.
Peter Denning, CEO of Julian House who will be leading the management of the scheme, told the committee it was an essential scheme. He said: “270 people have died on the streets in this country in last five years and Exeter faces challenges with around 20-30 rough sleepers a night, so we are passionate about getting in place a scheme to reduce that.”
He said that they for the winter of 2016/17, as part of the Safe Sleep initiative, run a homeless shelter on behalf of the city council in Market Street, and that any concerns residents did not come to fruition.
The former Spice Island restaurant, next to Magdalen Street car park, is opposite the swanky Hotel Du Vin, who had objected to the change of use plans.
Fiona Darde, general manager of Hotel Du Vin, said: “We support the need but don’t consider the site suitable because of the impact it could have on the hotel. It could lead to anti-social behaviour and guests could be intimidated if large groups of people gathered outside the facility, causing them to take their business elsewhere.”
She also asked whether it was big enough to accommodate the number of homeless people in Exeter, adding: “If it is not large enough for all, we have concerns that people gather outside and will be waiting for a bed.”
But Mr Denning said that the chose the location after an exhaustive search for sites, concluding this the best of the 18 sites they considered.
He said: “It has the capacity to support the numbers we want, it is in the city centre, and a relatively anonymous location. Hotel guests experience high levels of rough sleeping in the city, but that would be reduced if there is a homeless shelter.”
He added there would not be no risk of queueing as there would be a four window where it is open for people, with homeless people having to be inside by 10pm, Sunday to Thursday, and 11pm, Friday and Saturday.
The plans were backed by councillors, with Cllr Phil Bilayk saying that the hotel was being overprotective of its guests and that homeless people are no more anti-social that anyone else.
He said: “We have been walking on the other side of the street for far too long and this is an excellent idea and I want us to be a city that moves on with this kind of arrangement and facility. I can understand some of the concerns, but they are being overprotective and worrying a bit too much. We are dealing with homeless people, who are not revelling outside or causing antisocial behaviour any more than revellers or pub-goers or even some hotel guests do.
“To create the image that all homeless people are on drugs or criminals and that we should hide them is a sad reflection of anyone’s thinking.
“This is an excellent facility and the community use is fantastic and will be yet another way to connect with help the homeless.”
Cllr Rachel Sutton added that the Hotel Du Vin might be underestimating their clientele with their objections. She said: “When I was visited Edinburgh and stayed in a Hotel Du Vin there were people begging outside and I wasn’t put off visiting the hotel. I would have been happier if they somewhere to sleep and weren’t potentially dying in the cold, and guests may feel a bit less guilty about their expense accounts staying at a very nice hotel if there is somewhere for the homeless to sleep.”
Cllr Percy Prowse added: “It is good to see this being planned early as normally we are having to find a place later in the year.”
Funding for the winter shelters has come from a successful application to the Government’s national initiative to reduce the number of rough sleepers, with Exeter to receive £481,600 to provide immediate support to people living on the streets and help them back into accommodation.
Planning permission for the building in Howell Road car park was granted for between October 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019, while a permanent change of use of the former Spice Island restaurant to a winter night shelter and community facility for homeless people was approved, although it can only act as a winter night shelter between October and March.
No details as to the number of bed spaces available was revealed at the planning meeting on Monday night, nor were details about how often the temporary building in the car park would be used.
Last autumn there were 35 people living on the streets in Exeter, and a reduction from the previous year, but the figure is deemed too high for Exeter – a city with a population of around 130,000.