Sex worker activity and violent behaviour left residents of Bedford road fearing for their safety

Rutland Road. Image: Google Street View June 2021
Rutland Road Image: Google Street View June 2021

The high concentration of temporary accommodation on Rutland Road, Bedford has caused disruption to residents, leading to sleepless nights, damage to property and concerns for personal safety.

A residents’ petition asking Bedford Borough Council to ensure future temporary accommodations were at least 100 metres apart was debated at a full council meeting this week (Wednesday, January 12).

Ms Hart, the petition organiser, told the councillors that her community understood, and agreed, that it is right and proper that the council has a duty to provide temporary housing for single people with considerable vulnerabilities and/or previous issues with tenancies.

“However, concentrating around 16 such individuals in two large houses opposite each other without continuous support is not helpful to them, and it has turned out to be disruptive in the extreme over the last 12 months to our community,” she said.

Ms Hart then went on to give a snapshot of the activity during one week in September.

This included sex worker activity on a doorstep captured on a Ring doorbell, someone kicking in a bay window and then jumping through it, and wheelie bins being thrown at others.

“Three fire engines, one ambulance control and command vehicle, a further ambulance and five police vehicles attended [one house] for what was declared a major incident, she said.

“A resident was purported to be threatening to blow up the gas supply. This was very frightening indeed for local residents.”

Ms Hart said that for the first time in her 30 years of living in Rutland Road, there has been theft of deliveries, such as milk and parcels.

“One night, five cars had their wing mirrors pushed off and the bodywork scratched or dented,” she said.

Ms Hart gave more examples of the antisocial behaviour, which included drug dealing, street drinking and “crazed cyclists” tearing around unlit along the pavements.

“The conversion of family homes to HMOs and hostels has resulted in an unbalanced neighbourhood with an ever decreasing sense of community,” she added.

Cllr Henry Vann (LibDems, De Parys Ward) proposed a motion on behalf of Cllr Colleen Atkins (Labour, Harpur Ward), who was absent.

He told the council that it was important to note that many council powers couldn’t be applied retrospectively in relation to properties. He then read an extract of a briefing he was given.

“Sadly, the demand for temporary accommodation is higher than it has ever been, making it challenging to find suitable accommodation, particularly at very short notice,” he said.

The motion noted the rising demand for temporary accommodation, which it said had increased from 62 households in Temporary Accommodation in April 2016 to 340 as of January 12, 2022.

“Currently, the council has to rely mainly on private property providers who specialise in providing properties for rent as temporary accommodation,” councillor Vann said.

“The council has little choice over the location of these properties which will depend on what is available at the time it is needed.

“There is a longer-term strategy effectively in place, which is noted in the motion, for the council to buy properties to give us more ability to oversee and to have a direct impact on these properties.

“I know that longer-term strategy obviously requires quite a heavy investment.

“We are proposing to invest in the purchasing of accommodation that the council can run as temporary accommodation, so we’re not relying on private providers as much.

“The only other caveat to that I would mention is that if the council wasn’t using some of these private providers for temporary accommodation, then it is quite possible that other local authorities, and this has happened, place people in the borough, and that gives us even less of a say as residents and as councillors,” he added.

The motion was carried.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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