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Blocking tactics

July 03 2010
Aberdeen Council rejects a proposal for a much-needed homeless hostel

Aberdeen's chronic hostel shortage has received a further blow with the Licensing Committee blocking a proposed new hostel in the Tilydrone area.

The proposal to convert a former residential care home, Aberdon House, into a temporary accommodation unit for up to 38 households was met with strong opposition from local residents, who protested outside the Council meeting on 20 May.

The building, which is currently disused, is surrounded by housing for older people and campaigners objected to the proposal, arguing that it was more appropriate for the building to be returned to a residential home for the elderly.

Most of the 129 letters of objection voiced concern over the disruption to the peace and serenity of the area and argued that the hostel would cause distress to the elderly people in the neighbouring accommodation, many of whom are frail and disabled. Many also voiced concerns for their personal safety and increased antisocial behaviour as a result of the hostel.

Councillors refused the application by nine votes to six on the grounds that the location was not suitable. This was despite a compromise proposal by the SNP Councillors, which included reducing the period of the license to two years, introducing community liaison meetings, installing CCTV and increasing community safety wardens in the area.

The new facility would have gone some way to addressing the chronic shortage of accommodation for homeless people in the city that has led the Council to fail to deliver on housing legislation. Last year the local authority revealed 289 homeless people and families were not offered any temporary accommodation between April and September 2009.

This is the second time the Council's own licensing committee has blocked efforts to address this shortage. A decision by the committee last year to remove the House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) license for a homeless hostel on Crown Street following a similar campaign has led to the Council taking legal action against itself to contest the ruling.

Aberdeen Council, like all local authorities, has a legal obligation to provide temporary accommodation to homeless households and the Scottish Government has set a target to abolish the priority needs test by 2012.

However with this second block by the Licensing Committee the Council will be hard pushed to deliver these targets. During the committee meeting the solicitor for the Council highlighted that at that time 99 homeless people in Aberdeen were placed in bed and breakfast accommodation with a further 24 in hotels.

The fact that many of the protesters referred to the Crown Street decision as part of their objection raises concerns that it will become increasingly difficult to secure new accommodation sites. In his report to the committee Council Homelessness manager Paul Hannan outlined the need for the hostel and the dialogue he has held with the local communities.

He also said that perceived fears of anti-social behaviour are often unfounded: "The setting up of dedicated accommodation for homeless households in an area is often met with a negative response linked to potential fears from local people. Whilst we cannot give a 100 per cent guarantee that no problems will be caused, the experience of our management over many years is that such units do not cause the problems people predict."

The council has yet to announce whether it will appeal this latest decision.