Last month, a plan was released to transform a Victorian house located in front of the Battersea Art Centre into a rough sleeper home.
Wandsworth Council has submitted a planning application to redevelop a Victorian building at 201 – 203 Lavender Hill, situated in front of the Battersea Art Centre, into a Rough Sleeper Assessment Hub.
Wandsworth lacks a place where rough sleepers can be accommodated on short notice and currently relies solely on charities and temporary accommodations, often in other boroughs, which can lead to difficulties in accessing support services. To address this gap, a local hub has been proposed, equipped with key services and a substantial staff (more than 20 desks are indicated in the application) along with short-stay accommodations.
The purpose of a Rough Sleeper Hub is to serve as the initial point of contact for people who find themselves homeless. The services provided aim to create a safe and welcoming environment, understand individuals’ circumstances, and assist them in finding the support they require. Services may include providing breakfast, hot drinks, shower and laundry facilities, internet access, locker facilities for personal belongings, and assistance with welfare benefits, finding accommodation, and education, among other services.
The building is owned by the Council and was previously used for Wandsworth’s Social Services, including the Wandsworth Independent Living Scheme. Currently, the building is vacant and has reportedly been occupied by squatters, resulting in instances of antisocial behavior.
The plan (proposed by the Council, and to be approved… by the Council) focuses on internal redevelopment and a change of use with the capacity to host up to 11 residents.
Proposal for new floors in the Hub (showing ground and first floor)
The indicative floor plan outlines a reception room with staff desks and offices, a large meeting room, a tea/coffee counter, and a kitchen area on the ground floor. The first and second floors will be dedicated to nine private rooms similar to hostel bedrooms, an office for night duty staff, a kitchen and lounge, along with several toilets and bathrooms. One room and bathroom will be designated for female use. Additionally, there will be the potential to add two more beds if necessary. The third and final floor will be entirely dedicated to offices with staff desks and secure access.
The Hub will have a full-time Manager, Deputy Manager, and night duty staff. These staff members will be on-site, providing 24/7 coverage, and CCTV surveillance will be in place. Services located at the Hub will include Rough Sleeper Housing Assessment Officers, Homeless Healthlink workers, Drug and Alcohol Homeless pathway, and Outreach teams. Various partner agencies will provide services on an appointment and surgery basis.
Location of the hub opposed by hundreds of local residents
The Council has received 11 supports and… about 500 objections already.
The majority of objections acknowledge the importance of the initiative but express reservations about locating the rough sleeper hub near a nursery and in close proximity to other facilities catering to small children. Many complaints link also rough sleepers with the use of drugs and alcohol and an increase in anti social and criminal activity, which derives directly from the planning application saying that:
“Rough sleepers often have complex mental and physical health needs as well as a housing need.”
Richard Freeth, a local resident near Clapham Common, said:
“Whilst there is an obvious need for homeless support in the London Borough of Wandsworth, the proposed location is completely unacceptable. Building a homeless hostel directly next door to a successful nursery for children aged 0 – 5 years old raises significant safeguarding concerns, particularly as the hostel is designed to both accommodate and assist people with complex physical and mental needs, who may have criminal records or antisocial behaviour issues.”
Linden Tree Nursery Schools (Froebelian Nursery Schools) has been located next door since 2007 (previously it was another nursery called Babyroom) and caters to 32 children per day aged 6 months to 4 years. They strongly fear that the proximity of the rough sleepers’ hub will negatively impact their business, with some parents withdrawing their children from the nursery school and new parents being unwilling to enroll their children. Safety concerns are expressed for staff members who start early in the morning and finish late in the evening. Worries about potential disturbance to children’s sleep routines are also voiced. Furthermore, the children’s playground is located at the back of the nursery and is visible from the neighboring building which is causing more concerns.
There also fear that residents of the Hub will congregate near the building during the day, as there is no dedicated outdoor space within the property (there is ample space in front of the property, on the pavement facing Lavender Hill). This could raise concerns for parents dropping off and picking up their children at the nearby nursery.
Another resident in Latchmere Road said:
“The opening of such a centre near a nursery is either an egregious oversight or a remarkably inconsiderate planning choice. The commotion that will inevitably be caused by the constant arrival, departure and loitering of rough sleepers on the pavement outside and around the former office building will certainly dissuade local parents from enrolling their children there.”
Charlie Richards, living in Sisters Avenue, highlighted the Hub’s location in front of the Battersea Arts Centre and stated:
“The proposed hub’s positioning opposite a theatre frequently hosting events such as weddings raises immediate safety concerns for the attendees and the rough sleepers. The potential for conflicts and disturbances during these events could significantly impact the enjoyment and safety of attendees and undermine the peaceful coexistence of the neighborhood.”
Comparison have been made with homeless individuals sleeping in tents beside Westminster Cathedral and complaints received by Westminster’s Council for anti social behaviour. However, the proposed hub is fundamentally different, offering shelter for those sleeping rough and a range of services for Wandsworth Council, rather than encouraging individuals to congregate with tents and receive hot meals from charities.
Another parallel is drawn with the hostel at 113-117 Cedars Road, Clapham Common, managed by St Mungo’s, another homeless charity operating in Battersea. The charity operated with up to 120 beds (ten times more than proposed for Lavender Hill), and it was reported that the behavior of hostel residents caused problems and distress for local residents. The service dedicated to rough sleepers was relocated closer to Vauxhall in 2010, and the Cedar’s building, still managed by St Mungo’s, is now used for hosting people in need of rehousing and promotes gardening activities with Putting Down Roots.
A more relevant comparison might be drawn with a small hotel on Lynette Avenue in Clapham South, which has accepted bookings from several local councils for homeless individuals in need of temporary accommodation. A rough sleeping outreach team provides regular support and assistance to those at the hotel, with security staff on-site 24/7 and CCTV coverage. However, an article published last week by My London reported nearly daily incidents of antisocial behavior, including people congregating near the location, drinking outside, and screaming in the road.
Many points out the lack of transparency and detailed plan
The Vicar of St Barnabas Church is one of the few supportive comments received by the council. While he acknowledges the concerns expressed in the neighbourhood, he also shared his six years of experience working with Glass Door, providing a winter shelter for rough sleepers. Glass Door is an organisation working with several churches in Battersea, Clapham Common, or Balham to welcome rough sleepers, with each church taking turns to host a night shelter and provide hot meals. They also operate their own hubs with a capacity of 25 people per shelter each night in Wandsworth (and also in Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham) during the winter period, providing a safe place to sleep and nutritious hot meals to support people out of homelessness. The Vicar commented:
“We have not had a single incident of theft, vandalism or violence in all this time; nor have we had any complaints from any of our neighbours either. There is a dangerous conflation of homeless people and threatening or criminal behaviour which is pernicious and needs to be called out and challenged. Far from detracting from our church, the work of the night shelter has enhanced and enriched it and we have built a team of volunteers from the inside and outside the church which is an encouragement to be a part of.”
However, he also criticises the Council for a lack of transparency and miscommunication, which exacerbates the fears expressed by the community. Other local residents have pointed out the Council’s failure to provide a comprehensive plan for managing the impacts of the facility on the local area and the absence of a clear explanation of how the facility intends to function.
The planning application is notably light on documents and assessments, with only a series of internal drawings, a single-page justification with six paragraphs for the need of a Rough Sleeper Hub in Wandsworth, and some formal application forms. There is no assessment, context, or mitigation plan explaining how they intend to address potential nuisances, noise, begging, illicit substances, and other concerns.
Elizabeth Donaldson, living in Clapham Common West side, said:
“This is a very different situation to a house building planning application, as it is a community proposal that will affect many residents and businesses in the area. Why were there no notices or advice distributed to a much wider area and a proper consultation process held? What preparation has been taking place behind the scheme? What expertise is being used? All this should have been publicly shared before trying to put a planning application forward. […] I reiterate that I object to the proposal and very much hope the Council will address these very sad homeless problems in a more transparent way, sharing their intentions and plans and find a more appropriate location for an assessment centre.”.
The Vicar of St Barnabas Church suggests that instead of ignoring or dismissing the objections, the Council should organise a public meeting to address the resident’s concerns.
Wandsworth amongst the three worst boroughs for homelessness
According to a report published in January 2023 by the homelessness charity Shelter, three boroughs in South London rank among the top 10 local areas in England with the highest homelessness rates, and regrettably, Wandsworth is one of them, ranking seventh in the country (with Lewisham in sixth place and Southwark in eighth).
In 2022, it was estimated that 7,201 people were homeless and/or living in temporary accommodation arranged by the council in Wandsworth, which translates to one out of every 45 people, representing an increase of 56% since 2017. The report also highlights a concerning statistic, indicating that 3,337 children reside in temporary accommodation in Wandsworth.
The most recent data available shows that 18 people were sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2021 in the borough, which places Wandsworth among the top ten London boroughs with the highest number of rough sleepers. It’s worth noting that the count was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Everyone In programme gave a place for rough sleepers to stay.
This scheme provided temporary accommodation for 359 rough sleepers throughout 2020/21, with 124 individuals subsequently moved into more stable housing by March 31, 2021. Even after the Everyone In program concluded, support for rough sleepers continued, with an additional 207 individuals placed into temporary accommodation, and 120 individuals transitioned onto a path toward permanent rehousing by April 2022.
Government funding received to provide help for rough sleepers
From 2019 to 2023, the Council received grant funding of £7.5 million to establish various services for rough sleepers in the borough. For 2023/24 to 2024/25, an additional £4.8 million in government funding has been allocated to support initiatives related to rough sleeping.
The focus of this work has been to develop housing pathways that provide sustainable housing solutions for rough sleepers by integrating support services with suitable accommodation. A Rough Sleeper Team leads this effort, working closely with partner agencies to offer a coordinated response to rough sleeping throughout the borough.
Aydin Dikerdem, cabinet member for housing at Wandsworth Council, explained in an article published in Inside Housing that years of underinvestment in Wandsworth’s social housing necessitated bold steps to address the critical situation. He said:
“In the past year we recruited 24 additional members of staff to our homelessness prevention team.
We saw during COVID that with political will, government can end street homelessness overnight. The Everyone In programme, which gave all rough sleepers a safe place to stay during the pandemic, was an important moment that then sadly ended.
We want to build on our learnings from that work, and so will establish our first in-house rough sleeping hub that brings together council services, SPEAR and other partner agencies to provide a single point of access for rough sleepers, utilising £4.8m of government funding.“
SPEAR is an organization that assists people experiencing homelessness, particularly those sleeping on the streets. They have teams that go out late at night and early in the morning to find and interact with these individuals, offering support to help them leave the streets. SPEAR currently provides this service in the boroughs of Richmond, Wandsworth, Kingston, and Sutton.
Wandsworth Council is actively working on plans for housing and homelessness services for the period 2023-2028, focusing on early intervention and homelessness prevention and enhancing the understanding of complex needs. The borough’s draft Housing and Homelessness Strategy says (page 34):
“Use the £4.8m Government funding to work to establish a rough sleeping hub that brings together Council services, SPEAR and other partner agencies to provide a single point of access for rough sleepers.”
A council spokesperson said:
“No decision has yet been taken on this planning application which is still subject to public consultation. All the views submitted as part of that consultation will be fully taken into account before any decision is made.
While the merits of this specific application have yet to be considered, what is not in dispute across London and all big cities in the UK is the need for more support for rough sleepers so they can come in off the streets and receive help and assistance in rebuilding their lives, fulfilling their potential and making a positive contribution to society.”
If you wish to express your support or submit an objection regarding the proposal, you can do so online on Wandsworth Planning portal (reference 2023/3434). The comment period was initially open until October 19th, but due to the exceptional level of comments received (more than 500) they have now extended the consultation until November 10th. In addition, as usual for planning applications, late comments are also considered up to the meeting of the Planning Committee which is unlikely before December or the beginning of 2024.
St Mungo’s and the Police have been contacted, but at the time of publishing, none of them have responded.
UPDATE 09/11/2023: A public meeting is organised by the Council on December 6th 2023.