Plan to transform Wirral’s Abbeyfield House into flats for homeless approved

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A PLAN for new housing for the homeless in Wirral was given the green light despite the owners of a neighbouring nursery opposing it on the grounds of child safety.

Work can begin on converting Abbeyfield House, a former care home on Prenton Road West, Prenton, into 15 self-contained flats after the council’s planning committee voted unananimously to back the plans.

The plan was put together by Wirral Ark, a charity fighting homelessness in the borough.

The charity hopes the project will enable homeless people to back on track and put them in a position to get their own independent accommodation.

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Aydin Djemal, chief executive of Wirral Ark, said the project will house homeless people with the lowest support needs and people who are “90% of the way on the journey to success”.

He said all potential tenants would be fully assessed before living at the site by a process more robust than a standard CRB check and said no one known to be an offender or to be at risk of offending would be offered a tenancy.

Neil Williams, who co-owns Building Blocks Day Nursery, the premises next to Abbeyfield House, with his wife Gaynor, opposed the plans and said that putting homeless people next to a nursery could put children in his care at risk.

Mr Williams said that there had not been an obvious risk assessment which could have looked at the impact the proposal might have on children at his nursery and said he saw no formal evidence that tenants would be profiled to assess their risk to children.

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He said: "The proposal presents a significant shift in the character of the area, and will have a detrimental impact on the community.

"The area is nearly all privately-owned with generous footprints and living spaces and residents are longstanding and integrated."

Several councillors said they had received messages from local people who were concerned about the plans, with many having read that tenants at Abbeyfield House would be 'on licence', which they took to mean on license from prison.

However, it was confirmed at the meeting that 'on licence' in this instance simply refers to the nature of their tenancy.

Mr Williams argued that the proposal to have a transient population on a small footprint with no identified recreation areas was a "unique and detrimental" development for the community.

In most cases tenancies will be short term, between six and twelve months, and Wirral Ark has the power to revoke tenant’s right to live at the Abbeyfield House site within 24 hours should they breach tenancy rules.

On this basis, Labour councillor Stuart Whittingham asked Mr Williams why he thought homeless people would present a greater risk than others to children at a nursery.

Mr Williams said he did not believe homeless people are "some kind of criminal underworld", but having a more transient population next door with little open space for recreation was a big change, which needed to be assessed for risk.

Mr Djemal said all tenants would be assessed before being given a tenancy and said the Prenton site would not be in any way similar to the hostel run by Wirral Ark in Birkenhead, which houses 27 people.

That facility houses some of the most at risk people in the borough, including those with drink and drug problems.

Cllr Chris Cooke, who represents the Green Party in Prenton, expressed a number of concerns and said Wirral Ark’s plans could see Building Blocks Nursery close if there were the perception that children are not completely safe at the site.

Several councillors, including Lib Dem Allan Brame and Conservative Kathy Hodson, dismissed this concern and pointed out that the character of potential tenants was not a material planning consideration and was not part of their decision making process.

When it came to a vote the committee unanimously backed Wirral Ark’s plans.