WE write with reference to the Gazette’s recent articles regarding the current use of Canonsgrove halls of residence as accommodation for homeless people, and also to the subsequent letters of Barbara North and Dawn Johnson on the same topic.

We are grateful to the Gazette for highlighting this issue, which has been played down by the council.

Canonsgrove is two and a half miles from the town centre, on the edge of a quiet village and outside of the boundary within which Somerset West & Taunton (SWT) Council policy allows new development.

The student halls of residence were only allowed to be built on the understanding that, given the quiet surrounding community and the distance from town, they would not be let to members of the public, or used for activities which would lead to disturbance for the adjacent and nearby houses.

READ MORE: Opposition to Canonsgrove being used as long-term homeless hostel

There is a legal agreement to that effect and, without it, the halls of residence would not have been allowed to be built.

Going against that legal agreement would impact on the community and set a precedent for unsustainable development across the district.

Councillors were right to insist on those restrictions. The current use of Canonsgrove has led to a sharp spike in crime and anti-social behaviour, with 122 separate incidents recorded, including serious crimes such as burglary, violence and sexual offences.

Local streets have been the location of repeated drug deals, including vehicles from out-of-county, leading to concerns regarding potential County Lines risks to our young people.

Councillors were also right to insist that the site is used by people with realistic access to transport to and from the town centre.

A significant proportion of homeless residents at Canonsgrove have health and mobility problems, and few have access to private transport.

The location of the site has led to lengthy trips into town by those residents that can manage the walk, risks to residents who make the journey while intoxicated (stumbling into, or even lying in the road), issues on local buses and, sadly, severe problems for residents with continence problems.

The site is not suitable for this use in the longer-term and is out of step with SWT’s discrimination, planning and sustainability policies.

This is not about ‘moving the problem’ around, which is the unfortunate term that SWT has used in earlier discussions; rather, the current Options Appraisal must take account of the best type of provision, and the best locations for that provision across the whole of the district.

Best-practice evidence shows that large hostels result in worse outcomes for residents and a higher cost to society, both in terms of anti-social behaviour and also financially.

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While we are pleased to hear SWT saying that there is apparently no presumption towards the ongoing use of Canonsgrove, we were deeply worried to hear councillors, including Fran Smith, dismissing police and community evidence of the problems that have been faced, and approving an ‘Options Appraisal’ focused on one option - Canonsgrove.

In summary, this community has generally supported the temporary use of Canonsgrove in these exceptional times.

However, SWT needs to listen to local voters and demonstrate that it is acting openly in the interests not only of our villages but, critically, for the benefit of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

That is not going to be achieved by going against its own policies with an opportunistic knee-jerk reaction to continue or expand the use of Canonsgrove, based on an incomplete and challengeable ‘appraisal’.