COUNCILLORS have branded plans to build new units for homeless people a “disgrace” due to their proximity to a cherished community hall.

Julian House applied in November 2023 to build four one-bedroom ‘move on’ units in the car park of St. Edmund’s Community Hall on the eastern edge of Glastonbury.

The charity, which provides support to around 2,000 people every year across the south west, intended for these properties to temporarily house homeless people in and around the town.

But Somerset Council’s planning committee east (which handles major applications in the former Mendip area) unanimously voted to refuse permission on Tuesday (June 4), arguing it would damage the hall’s viability and put existing residents of the Windmill Hill area at risk.

The charity intended for the units to provide a safe, comfortable base for homeless people, providing them with a stable address as they attempt to find work, access local services and eventually move on to more permanent housing.

The running costs of the new facility would have been met by the council, with up to £740,000 being provided from Homes England in support.

The proposed site of the four one-bedroom ‘move on’ units.The proposed site of the four one-bedroom ‘move on’ units. (Image: Armstrong Architecture)

Several local residents spoke out strongly against the plans when the council’s planning committee east met in Shepton Mallet on Tuesday afternoon (June 4).

Jill Rossiter said: “The parking space has been reduced and will impact negatively on the population, who already struggle to park outside their own homes.

“The cost-of-living crisis and the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt by our population – especially young people and the elderly.

“By taking away much of the car park, you take away much of the hall's usage.  There are other locations which could be more suitable.”

Ian Tucker (who used to represent the St Edmund’s ward on Glastonbury Town Council) said removing the car park would undermine improvements which were made during the coronavirus pandemic.

The hall was refurbished in 2021 using £50,000 of ‘accelerator funding’ from the government, ahead of the full £23.6m Glastonbury town deal being confirmed.

Mr Tucker said: “Since the town deal improvements were carried out, this building has never been busier. It’s been used by toddler groups, the U3A and as a polling station.

“Losing the car park will kill the hall and the convenience store. I wonder what you would think if it was proposed to put these units on village hall car parks in your area.

“This is a very commendable idea, but it is in the wrong place, and the tenants will take the blame for it.”

Serena Roney-Dougal (a trustee of the hall) agreed, stating: “There has been a severe lack of consultation – nobody on my street or my neighbouring street was told.

“Many Windmill Hill residents are people who have come out of refuges or have young children, and they said to me they would feel scared going to the hall through its narrow entrance past these units.”

Thomas Willis – who said he has been homeless in the recent past – said there was a need for these units in Glastonbury but a better location needed to be found.

He said: “This is a commendable suggestion – we have a serious homeless problem.

“I’ve been homeless – I’ve slept on the streets and in the woods. But we should not be choosing between homeless support and community halls – we need both.

“Julian House should come to Glastonbury and build houses – we need it. But don’t destroy the community centre.

“Glastonbury has a large number of people who house themselves, and the authorities are trying to evict those people – like at the Zig Zag building – which will exacerbate the problem.”

A planning inquiry into the future of the Zig Zag building – which lies in the Beckery area of the town – recently concluded, with the Planning Inspectorate expected to rule by the end of the summer whether the council can evict the existing residents.

As part of the Glastonbury town deal, a permanent site for the ‘non-bricks and mortar’ community will be created on Porchestall Drove, providing 21 temporary transit pitches and 19 permanent pitches.

Councillor Nick Cottle, whose Glastonbury division includes the Windmill Hill area, spoke during the meeting but left after the public speakers finished talking, having declared an interest.

Mr Cottle is listed on the council’s official website as a trustee of St Edmund’s Community Hall – meaning he was not legally able to vote on the plans.

Before departing, he stated: “The car park is needed for the hall – we get 60 to 100 people there at a time, they drive and they need to park. There is no room for extra parking space on the highway.

“It’s a great idea, don’t get me wrong, but it’s in the wrong place.”

Councillor Bente Height (Shepton Mallet) concurred: “This is a disgrace. You have a community which is thriving and you are robbing them of their parking spaces.”

Councillor Adam Boyden (Frome North) added: “I feel very sad about this – this is pitting an admirable charity against a community wanting to save their hall. It’s such an indictment of our times.”

After around 90 minutes’ debate, the committee voted unanimously to refuse the plans.