Numerous objections have been made to Thanet council over plans to convert the former Royal British Legion Club building in Margate into a temporary specialist community housing hub for those made homeless.
The property is due to be a mix of seven emergency bed spaces and rooms for homeless households, and a community hub for Rise clients (Rough sleeper Intervention Support & Empowerment).
Planning documents say building owner Paramount Independent Property Services LLP is working with Thanet District Council and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide the hub.
Paramount Independent Property Services LLP (PIPS) is a specialist provider of accommodation services, working with councils in Kent.
The site is earmarked for use by a number of other services, including probation, The Forward Trust, Porchlight, Salvation Army and community groups such as the Windmill Project.
The British Legion club shut in 2018 and the property was sold at auction. At that time there was planning permission to convert the upper floors into four self-contained flats. An application for conversion to 8 flats submitted last year was refused due to its unsympathetic design qualities.
A part-retrospective application has also now been made for internal works, some of which have already started.
But there have been dozens of objections lodged with the district council over the plans.
Margate Conservation Area Advisory Group say the property is “unsuited to the proposed use and is not capable of providing the type of accommodation this vulnerable community deserves.”
A list on concerns from the group includes work starting prior to any consent being “illegal,” inappropriate materials being used on a Grade II listed property, a ‘temporary’ change of use becoming permanent and: “The temporary community of people living in a 7-Bedroom hostel deserve a level of dignity and privacy which this building cannot accommodate. For example, You would expect private outdoor garden space (there is none) with a common room I living room overlooking it Yet there is no garden, or common room proposed, and the cooking facilities are cramped.”
Other objections raise concern that the property is opposite Holy Trinity & St John’s Church of England Primary School.
One business owner in the area filed a lengthy objection, saying: “This is the wrong location to invite clients that are described as ‘increasingly complex.’ (I) agree with the parents of this school and others concerned that the risk of incidents outside the school will increase risk to the school.
He adds: “There is a spark that could become a real community here We have been waiting out these past couple of years but this scheme will seal the fate of this conservation area as a twilight zone, with architectural heritage desperately at risk.
“Given consent, the scheme WILL push away owner occupiers and longer term tenants who are already exasperated by the street drinking, drug dealing, rubbish and general neglect. Yet more rental properties will be created if properties don’t sell. This will put off newcomers. Building improvements and maintenance will be a financial loss and will allow existing and future absent landlords to continue with the lack of interest in these buildings.
“This is entirely the opposite of the commitments made in the Local Plan to preserve and enhance heritage buildings and their settings, Support strong healthy communities, Facilitate improvements within areas characterised by poor quality housing and poor physical environment, Ensure that new development is of the highest quality and enhances its local environment and Reduce opportunities for crime and fear of crime, Support the social, economic and physical revitalisation of Margate and Cliftonville west
“What is really frustrating is that the number of objections submitted is not an accurate reflection of the real feelings that people have or would have for this scheme. Many people are unaware of this proposal despite being likely to be significantly affected, including residents very close by, regular passers-through, school users, parents of the new September intake and users of local nurseries that would be considering this school.
“Anyone that hasn’t heard on the grapevine or via facebook as Coronavirus has distracted many, caused much stress and has significantly reduced the number of people out and about
“If this had been publicised openly and clearly and if this area had an established residential community such as Birchington, there would be far more comments against these applications.”
Paramount says lead officers for the building will arrange a meeting with local residents to “understand and resolve any concerns expressed during the duration of the project.”
In operational documents submitted with the plan Paramount say the hub will have full time dedicated staff, supplemented by a local Paramount Task Force.
It adds: “Beyond this we have a dedicated support team to enable residents (where necessary) to develop skills to manage their money and tenancy, with the ultimate goal of them re-entering the private rental market.
“Our support service has an excellent track record of working with those in our properties to achieve independent living, with residents able to take control of their role as a tenant, and to become able to sustain a tenancy.
“The Community Hub looks to offer a holistic service which provides the skills and resources to aid a resident’s journey to finding a permanent home. This can include access to vital aspects of day to day life, such as their local health services.”
Council conservation officer
Thanet council’s conservation officer says works undertaken have ‘caused harm’ but she considers them to be ‘reversible.’
She says: “Ultimately what was proposed previously and implemented now is largely unacceptable. That being said, although there is harm in the works that have already been undertaken, they are to a degree reversible within the context of the listed property and enable the building, on a short term basis, to be used for a community led purpose.
“If this application was to be approved it should be done so on a conditioned basis for a set length of time with all elements removed from the property after that length of time, with the walls and surfaces made good following the removal.”
A decision has not yet been made. Find the application on Thanet council’s planning portal, Ref F/TH/20/0797