Tue, 20 Mar 2018
THE leader of Newbury Town Council’s Liberal Democrat group has urged her colleagues to employ a more proactive approach in the fight to tackle homelessness.
Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, Northcroft) has called on the town council to use its Power of General Competence to explore ways in which it could play an active role in alleviating the problems of rough sleepers.
Under the Localism Act 2011, Power of General Competence grants a local authority the power to do “anything that individuals generally may do”.
Mrs Vickers raised the idea at a town council meeting on Monday, prompted by the findings in Healthwatch West Berkshire’s recent homelessness report, which documented “an unprecedented rise” in the number of people sleeping rough within the area.
Sarah Greenall, chairwoman of community services, responded positively to Mrs Vickers’ request.
She said that the town council would approach West Berkshire Council to discuss what could be done.
Mrs Vickers, who sits on the Healthwatch board and has spent time volunteering for the West Berkshire Homeless shelter, believes the town council has shirked its responsibility in helping to confront the problem.
One of the ways the town council could pursue more of an active role, Ms Vickers argued, was to provide accommodation in Newbury town centre, such as a multi-purpose day centre in which agencies could operate.
The Lib Dem councillor believes Loose Ends, a drop-in centre in Newbury which serves food to the homeless and vulnerable, is one of those agencies that could benefit.
“A purpose-built centre would help Loose Ends improve their service and give them stability,” said Mrs Vickers.
“They have identified the need for a drop-in health clinic, but have no room for this in their present facility.
“If those rough sleepers were to vote in a general election, at the moment they’d have to put their addresses as the Salvation Army and the homeless shelter.
“The town council could be considering how it might assist them in their search for land and funding for this project.”
Mrs Vickers has also campaigned to install a shower in the public toilets at Newbury Wharf and drinking taps and fountains in the town centre, which she hopes can materialise sooner rather than later.
“West Berkshire Homeless is already talking about the need to plan for next winter,” added Mrs Vickers.
“They will be looking for a town centre building that is lying empty and could be used as a shelter.
“The town council could assist them in this search and in their conversations with the owners.
“The one that springs to my mind is the redundant magistrates court.
“Readers might have some suggestions.”
Mrs Vickers said it was “a shame” that West Berkshire Council had described the recent Healthwatch West Berkshire report as “inaccurate”.
She said: “The reaction from the district council was defensive.
“They should have welcomed this report as a need to do more.
“It does not help to move the situation forward.”