Four of Hill’s modular homes for the homeless approved in Cambridge
Plans have been approved for four more modular homes for the homeless in Cambridge, gifted by developer Hill.
The so-called “pods” will provide transitional housing for up to 18 months to the homeless and former rough sleepers, with support provided by homelessness charity Jimmy’s and Cambridge City Council.
The council’s planning committee voted unanimously to grant planning permission on Wednesday (October 7) for four of the portable buildings on land off Dundee Close in East Chesterton.
The small and self-contained homes are four of 16 to have been gifted to the city by Hill . Under its Foundation 200 project, the Ickleton-based family-owned house-builder is donating 200 such homes nationwide to ease the homelessness problem - a £10million gift inspired by the personal experience of Hill CEO Andy Hill, who was made redundant in 1999 when he had a young family, and feared they would lose their home.
The homes, to be managed by the Cambridge charity Jimmy’s, are 3.8 metres wide, 7.9 metres deep and 3.1 metres high, according to a city council report. Each unit comes fully furnished and includes a living area, kitchen, utility space, bathroom and a bedroom.
Six similar homes from a different project are already in place and have tenants on land next to the Christ the Redeemer Church, off Newmarket Road in Barnwell.
A further planning application has been submitted to install more of the 16 homes gifted by Hill, for a site at Crowland Way in Kings Hedges. And another application is anticipated for land of Barnes Close near to the airport.
This latest application differs from the previously approved row of six homes on Newmarket Road in that the planning permission is permanent, whereas the Newmarket Road scheme only has permission for three years.
The applicant, Cambridge City Council, said the homes will provide “specialist single-person accommodation for local homeless people”.
The city will only award a place to those who meet the criteria for its “housing first” strategy, which includes the requirement of a local connection, and the individual must be currently in “vulnerable accommodation” and “struggling in the cycle of homelessness by being a ‘repeat visitor’ of homelessness services”.
A council planning officer said nearby residents had raised concerns that the homes would increase substance abuse or antisocial behaviour in the area. These claims, they said, were found to be without evidence. The planning officer said the council has advised the tenancies will not be offered to those with “complex needs” and that “any tenant who has had non-housing related difficulties will need to be well on their way to addressing these and have been stable for a considerable period”. They also said support would be available from the city council and homelessness charity Jimmy’s, and that conditions would be placed on all tenancies.
The planning officer also said the homes do not meet the council’s policy for minimum space standards “and therefore should not be used for longer-term standard housing”. The occupancy period will be limited to 18 months.
A resident of Elmfield Road, Cinzia Malangone, wrote to the committee to object to the application.
She argued there is a “conflict of interest” and that the council is allowing itself to breach its own policy on minimum space standards by 30 per cent of the expected minimum internal space.
The homes have an internal space of 24 metres squared, compared with the council’s expected minimum of 37 metres squared, which is based on government guidance.
She also argued that the application does not have the support of local residents, as only objections have been received in response, and said the “pods” are out of character with the area. She also criticised a “lack of details” about how future occupants would be selected, arguing the council could therefore “not guarantee the most in need will access and benefit”.
Council officer Rory Lowings made the case for the application to the committee and said the positive impact on future tenants could be “immeasurable,” as they “might otherwise be reliant on a hostel or shared accommodation”.
“Homelessness in Cambridge is a clear and evident problem,” he said, adding the need for the modular homes has “only increased” as a result of the pandemic. He said 77 people “who would otherwise be homeless” are being temporarily housed in hotels in response to the virus.
He said: “The pods are part of the process of getting people from potentially a street homeless situation or a hostel accommodation situation to accommodation that they are in independently.”
He said the homes are built to last at least 60 years, but that the aim is to move each tenant into “conventional accommodation after they have established a stable domestic situation and are in a position to make that transition”.
The homes could be brought into use “not long after the New Year,” Mr Lowings said.
He said that if the tenant has a history of drug use, Jimmy’s may conduct “regular and random” drugs tests. A representative of the charity told the meeting that if such a test is failed then an assessment will be carried out to determine if the tenancy should continue.
Cllr Jennifer Page-Croft told the committee her son had spent about eight years living on the streets as a rough sleeper. She said he now had “his life back together again”, with a stable home and family. She said that when she discussed this project with her son he said it was “amazing”. She said the smaller size can be more manageable and beneficial for those transitioning from a life on the streets.
A number of councillors voiced strong support for the scheme. Cllr Carla McQueen praised it as “such a good thing,” and Cllr Dave Baigent described it as “wonderful”.
Cllr Kelley Green said: “Homelessness affects us all whether we feel like it does or not, we can’t really just shut the door on it and ignore it.”
She added: “Given that housing is so expensive and becoming more expensive relative to our incomes in Cambridge, I think it is time we seriously addressed how to deliver housing of this type in bigger quantities.”
“I would really like to see more,” she said.
Cllr Gerri Bird described it as a “fantastic development”.
“I do understand the concerns of the neighbours who are close by, but I’m sure we can make sure that everything is fine for them too,” she said.
She added: “I think these are important because we need to give these people a step up into accommodation so they can get back into normal life.”
In response to a question from Cllr Baigent, she said “none of these pods are accessible for anybody with a disability”.
A council officer said there is other accommodation for those with disabilities looking for accommodation.
Emma Fletcher, director of Hill’s Foundation 200 , said: “Achieving planning for these four homes is a tremendous step forward in our programme and is our second site in Cambridge to receive planning permission.
“We have donated these homes to Jimmy’s, who will be providing the vital ongoing support to homeless people making the move into a home of their own. We’re delighted to be part of an active community of organisations who together are helping tackle homelessness in Cambridge”.