Rough Sleeper Hub approved on Lavender Hill in a highly consensual meeting

7 mins read
Location for the Rough Sleeper Hub proposal - Credit: CJI

Wandsworth Council approved plans for a new rough sleepers’ hub at last week’s planning committee meeting.

On Tuesday 21 May, the monthly meeting of the planning committee approved the council’s proposal (p.a. 2023/3434) to establish a hub in Lavender Hill, Battersea.

It was not unexpected as we noted last month: Councils rarely reject their own applications, so it would have been extraordinary to see the scheme refused.

The surprise came with the timing of the committee review, which occurred immediately after the closure of the consultation period, making it seem like a done deal that just needed a rubber stamp.

The Rough Sleeper Hub proposal was the main topic of the Planning Application committee meeting in May, taking up two-thirds of the total discussion time.

Tackling rough sleeping is a consensual initiative shared by all parties, with funding from central government

Tom Pridham, ward councillor for Lavender, started the meeting with a short statement. This was a delicate exercise, as he had supported the scheme in the past but also wanted to represent the views of the local residents in his ward who objected en masse. He introduced his comments by saying:

“I believe it’s important to state from the outset that initiatives aimed at tackling rough sleeping are incredibly important. It’s a subject that both Councillor Cook and I, as Ward councillors, care deeply about. We fully support the government’s approach to this issue, particularly its willingness to assist local authorities in addressing it. Indeed, we were initially supportive of this specific project.”

The UK government’s “Ending Rough Sleeping for Good” policy is a comprehensive strategy aimed at eradicating rough sleeping in England. This cross-government approach focuses on four key pillars: prevention, intervention, recovery, and system-wide transparency and accountability. This program provides specific funding to prevent rough sleeping and 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.

Overall, the Conservative government strategy is supported by over £2 billion in funding up to 2025 and aims to build on the successes of previous initiatives like the “Everyone In” program, which significantly reduced rough sleeping during the COVID-19 pandemic​.

A “shambolic process” created by Wandsworth Council’s inability to properly present the case

We have extensively covered the proposed new hub for rough sleepers at 201–203 Lavender Hill, located opposite the Battersea Arts Centre and adjacent to the Linden Tree Nursery.

The process has been anything but smooth. By the date of the committee meeting, the proposal had attracted 640 objections, the highest number since Labour won the local elections in 2022.

The Council developed the proposal in secret at the end of September, and it went unnoticed until the vigilant website posted an article about the plan. The Council quietly submitted a planning application with minimal content, classifying it as a minor change of use. This classification bypassed the usual notification processes, catching even the closest neighbors by surprise. The application was so lacking in detail that planning officers put it on hold until the necessary information was provided.

In a few weeks, the Council’s planning portal recorded more than 300 objections. Many hundreds of comments were made on the original planning application by neighbouring residents and businesses. Completely unprepared, the Council decided to organise a  a public meeting at Battersea Arts Centre in December last year, to try to explain more about their plan. Following the event, it went quiet and at the beginning of this year, without any news, planners even envisaged that it could be completely abandoned, as we reported.

However this was then reactivated at the beginning of April, this time with proper planning application information and with a 4 weeks notice period to comment.

In his statement, Councillor Pridham said:

“It’s a matter of regret […] that the Council has so badly lost the confidence of the local community through what I regard as a fairly shambolic process. I think it’s made all the more disappointing by the fact that it is the Council’s own application as well.”

Similar to the concerns we highlighted in  our previous articles, he listed a number of issues that did not seem properly address:

  1. Lack of consultation with local businesses: Specifically, the Linden Tree Nursery next door. Pridham claimed that Council officers only met with them after residents and ward councillors pointed this out.
  2. Lavender Hill Police Station proximity: Mentioning the nearby police station is not reassuring, as evidence showed that the Council failed to inform the police, who first heard about the proposal from local media articles and through a quarterly Safer Neighborhood Team meeting.
  3. Public meeting oversight: The Council-organised public meeting did not invite the ward councillors, which does not inspire confidence in the promise of future community involvement.
  4. Information booklet: While the booklet distributed to residents was helpful in providing more details and answering some questions, it presented the project as a fait accompli and did not mention that the hub requires planning approval.

During the meeting, it must be noted that Dave Worth, Assistant Director of the Housing Service, apologised for the difficulties encountered during the submission of the proposal. He said:

“At this stage it is new to the borough and it is new to us. I fully accept and apologise to the committee and the wider community, as we did previously, that the initial consultation was not what it should have been. I am more than happy to own that mistake. We hope we have improved the consultation process through the events that have been described.”

Example of similar schemes

The officers used this argument of novelty to dismiss concerns about the impact on the neighborhood. In the planning officer’s report, it says that as “comparable experience is not available for a location such as this,” it was not possible to show any evidence that it would affect nearby businesses.

However, Mr. Worth acknowledged that there is one in Lambeth near Vauxhall Bus Station which has been running for a long time, and another one called The Passage in central London, Westminster, which has also been operating for a long time. The Assistant Director of the Housing Service also explained that Wandsworth officers have been advised throughout the process by government officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, including their rough sleeper specialists.

Again here, it must be noted that Mark Justin, councillor for Nine Elms, asked twice more information about the way similar facilities operates and the feedback that has been received. Unfortunately, officers eluded the question and no detailed answer was received. Below are the two schemes that were cited by Mr Worth.

The Vauxhall Homeless Shelter, formally known as the Bondway Housing Shelter or Lambeth Assessment Centre, is a short-stay hostel located at 11 Bondway, Vauxhall, London. It primarily caters to homeless adults, providing between 28 and 32 beds. The shelter offers support for vulnerable individuals, particularly middle-aged to older men, and includes various services to help residents transition out of homelessness​​. The shelter is run by Thames Reach, an organisation dedicated to helping homeless and vulnerable individuals. It offers basic necessities and support, such as personal hygiene products and a safe place to stay. The shelter has a history of community involvement, and is also noted for its efforts to adopt best practices from other successful initiatives and receives advice from government specialists to ensure effective management​.

The Passage is a prominent homeless charity based in Westminster, central London, run by a charity of the same name. It provides a range of services to support individuals experiencing homelessness. The organisation operates the Passage House Assessment Centre, a 40-bed facility offering a 28-day stay for single homeless people sleeping rough in Westminster who do not have a local connection to the area​. It includes emergency accommodation, outreach, and long-term support to help individuals move from homelessness to sustained housing and employment.

But unlike those rough sleeper’s shelters, Lavender Hill hub should be run directly by Wandsworth Council.

Agreement reach on additional conditions to restrict the risk and reassure nearby residents

As we mentioned, while the plan was very likely to be approved, there was still plenty of opportunity to suggest how the operations could be optimised. To conclude his speech, Councillor Pridham asked the Council to impose a series of conditions, particularly regarding the liaison group with regular meetings to allow residents to address their concerns. He also suggested that no building work should take place between noon and 3 p.m. each day, as these are the core hours when the children at Linden Tree Nursery tend to be asleep. However, officers mentioned that it would be difficult to impose such conditions, but assured that as it was a Council building facility, they would minimise the disturbance:

“Our intention here is to be a good neighbor, so we are more than happy to address the point about noisy work during certain hours. We will use our best endeavours to ensure our contractors conduct quieter work during those periods.”

A suggestion to review the permission within six months was deemed impractical, and Labour councillor Leonie Cooper cited her own experience working for such a facility in the past.

After all the committee members had time to express their views, with the vast majority in favour of the scheme, it was decided to incorporate an additional condition requiring adherence to the management plan and specifically the 24/7 hotline for residents and the proposals for regular resident forums.

The Planning Committee voted by eight votes in favour and one against (Emmeline Owens, Conservative councillor for Northcote Ward, who has friends with children at the nursery beside the proposal) to grant the permission.

Aydin Dikerdem, Cabinet Member for Housing, said on the Council’s press release:

“We are thrilled that the Planning Committee has approved this application, and we can start to look forward to delivering the best possible outcomes for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“This hub is the first of its kind in Wandsworth, and one of very few across the capital, and will take a pioneering approach to working with the street homeless. This new approach will help us toward our aim of ending rough sleeping by 2030 and creating a fairer, more compassionate borough for all.”

The Council’s decision paves the way for creating a model facility that can serve as a benchmark for the borough and other local authorities. If managed safely and effectively, the new hub should support the rough sleepers it intends to help while also addressing the concerns of the local community.

In this video, you can watch the case debated at the Planning Application Committee.

Do you think what we are doing is helping the community and you want to encourage us to do more?

Your help means we can spend more time researching stories, talking to contacts, sitting through meetings and writing stories. Any money given will support community and public interest news and the expansion of our coverage in area of Clapham Junction. Battersea, Wandsworth and around.

Support us, help us to expand: subscribe to CJI with a monthly donation


Monthly amount needed to make it sustainable:

We'd be interested to hear what kind of articles you would like to see more of on the site – send your suggestions to the editor.

CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.