Tension in the chamber as contentious Corby planning decision is postponed

Nightlight volunteers outside the building in Cannock Road
Nightlight volunteers outside the building in Cannock Road

An eleventh-hour intervention by Corby’s most senior civil servant has delayed a decision on the town’s controversial homeless shelter.

Weeks of community antipathy over the Nightlight Shelter proposed for Cannock Road were due to be brought to a close last night (Wednesday) as members of Corby Borough Council’s planning committee were set to make a decision on the application. It had been recommended for the green light by officers.

About 70 members of the public were present in the council chamber for the meeting at 7pm.

But just three hours before it was due to start, the authority’s officers announced a hitch - while addressing a last-minute issue, they had found contradictory guidance in two separate housing acts that might impact on their recommendation to councillors.

The committee was asked to vote to defer the decision, which they did so unanimously.

Chief Executive Officer of Corby Council Norman Stronach addressed the meeting. Offering his apologies for the deferral, he said: “This is my responsibility. I must delay the decision until we get expert advice on the issue that came out later on today.

“I’ll endeavour to get this in front of members as soon as we have received the advice.”

Nightlight volunteers say that they looked after more than 100 different homeless people in their former shelter on the Beanfield Estate during the most recent winter.

Many of these people live in woodland around Corby because there is no statutory obligation on any authority to house them.

The new shelter would be open 24-hours and would be able to house more than 30 homeless people overnight, offering them help from doctors, benefits and housing advisors and other support agencies during the day. There would also be a laundry, television room and kitchen.

Nightlight have said they will provide CCTV and will only allow people who have been referred by the local authority to attend the shelter.

However, residents living nearby say they are worried about the risk of a rise in crime, problems with people hanging around outside the shelter and the adverse impact on the neighbourhood - one of the oldest parts of Corby new town.

Following the meeting, Nightlight volunteers left immediately.

Objectors who had been due to speak were frustrated that the decision had been delayed at such a late hour after so much preparation.

One of their representatives Maxeen Belsky said: “Our position hasn’t changed. We support a homeless shelter for Corby but this is not the right place for it.”

The next development control committee meeting is due to take place next Wednesday (June 12) but it is not yet known if the issues will be resolved by then.

Five councillors - Paul Beattie, Ann Brown, Lawrence Ferguson, Matt Reay and David Sims - were not able to take part in last night’s meeting for various reasons. Several substitutes - Councillors Kevin Watt, Bob Eyles and Bridget Watts - took their place alongside regular committee members Councillors Julie Riley, Anthony Dady, Willie Latta, Colleen Cassidy and Jean Addison.

Why was the decision postponed?

We don’t know all the details yet. Corby Council said in their statement that they needed to consider what they believe was contradictory guidance relating to the 1985 and 2004 Housing Acts. This refers to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

Housing legislation is complicated and evolving, which means that it is governed by a myriad of laws that may sometimes be inconsistent or open to interpretation. The HHSRS refers to hazards, how they are assessed and the risk of harm to occupants. Among the many hazards covered by the act are fire safety, overcrowding, sanitation, asbestos and hygiene.

Planning officers wrote an incredibly detailed, belt and braces report into the issues surrounding the shelter before recommending it for approval to councillors. They had addressed most of the planning objections raised by local people.

If they don’t ensure that they’ve covered all bases, the decision of the council could be challenged through the appeals system. This is expensive and laborious and is a process the council will be keen to avoid in these times of local authority belt-tightening.

What happens now?

Given the number of interested parties and the great effect on the local community, Corby Borough Councillors will look in detail at the possible legal quandary and will seek advice from specialist solicitors. CEO Norman Stronach has pledged to get the issue back before councillors at the earliest opportunity.