Torridge District Council has been granted planning permission to bring forward the remodelling of an office building in Bideford and conversion to temporary accommodation. The plans also include proposals to landscape part of the current hard standing on the site for the placement of additional modular accommodation units.

Councillors gave their approval for the purchase and conversion of the site earlier in the year. Since then officers have been working with architects to remodel the internal and external layouts as well as concluding the acquisition, which was finalised this week. The site was chosen as it offered the potential for a significant uplift in the number of temporary units the council would have at its disposal to help with the increasing number of people coming forward as homeless. The council related that while homelessness can occur for a number of reasons, including family breakdowns, caseloads being dealt with at the moment are increasingly a reflection of the squeeze on available private sector rental properties, and the unaffordability of those that do come onto the market.

The council already operates three hostels with a total of 16 units of temporary accommodation, own one further unit, and lease 5 private sector properties to meet its housing obligations for those presenting as homeless. However due to recent heavy demand the council has frequently been forced into utilising expensive bed and breakfast, hotel, or holiday let options with costs only being partially reimbursed by the government. The conversion of Sully House on Clovelly Road Industrial Estate, Bideford, will provide eight more units of varying sizes including one self-contained, with disabled access. As a newer property built in 2000, surveys have indicated that the cost of conversation will be manageable within the budgets available, and will include provision for solar power and other adaptations to reduce running costs.

The external adaptations will also include landscaping and the siting of three modular, one person units, with provision for a bedroom, living area and small bathroom and separate kitchen. The cost of these smaller units will come from a successful bid by Devon County to central government, which has in turn been made available to districts to tackle homelessness. Similarly to the hostels already operated by the council the main building is expected to be cost neutral with just a 45% occupation rate, which if exceeded, will go towards paying back the acquisition and conversion costs over time. There will however be significant savings to the cost of providing alternative hotel type accommodation and the site also has scope for 3 more modular units to be accommodated in the future. The modular units are expected to be available for use from spring next year with the main building conversion completed in early summer.

Councillor Rachel Clarke – Lead Member for Homelessness and Housing Need said:

“The acquisition of Sully House represents a good opportunity for a cost effective conversion into much needed temporary accommodation, which will save the council money in the longer term. As a newer building and with other energy saving improvements such as solar power, the running and maintenance costs should be manageable as well. Most importantly it gives our officers further options to helping those in need and a chance to save some of the money currently being spent on expensive and unsustainable hotels and bed and breakfast cover.”