FENLAND COUNCILLOR BRANDS HOMELESS AS UNDESIRABLES AS HE STOPS �700,000 HOSTEL
EXCLUSIVE By John Elworthy HOMELESS people were last night branded undesirables by a Fenland councillor who successfully fought off a �700,000 refurbishment of the former Queens Hotel, Wisbech, to accommodate them. His comments were immediately attac
By John Elworthy
HOMELESS people were last night branded "undesirables" by a Fenland councillor who successfully fought off a �700,000 refurbishment of the former Queens Hotel, Wisbech, to accommodate them.
His comments were immediately attacked by both the leader and deputy leader of Fenland District Council who described it as "the worst kind of language to use in this situation.
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"We would expect it from the BNP and not from people around here," they said.
Councillor Phil Webb's motion to refuse permission to the Luminus Group - who also owns the Ferry Project- attracted just two supporters but on a day when four councillors were absent it was enough to scupper the application.
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"My motion said simply that it was in the wrong place- Wisbech is not very attractive and this could make it less attractive," said Cllr Webb. "The people who would use the centre are a difficult thing to describe but, without being nasty, they are undesirables."
Cllr Webb's opposition to the scheme - which was due to attract �200,000 of funding from his own council- took officials by surprise when he hit out at Wednesday's meeting of Fenland District Council Planning Committee.
With committee chairman Martin Curtis and three others - councillors Ken Peachey, Bernard Keane, and Trevor Quince- all away, Cllr Webb had simply to propose the motion and get just TWO others to win the day.
Astonishingly three other councillors, including Cabinet member Peter Murphy who had previously agreed to Fenland Council putting in �200,000 to get the scheme off the ground, abstained.
Vice chairman Roger Green, who had publicly backed the hostel, said: "I wasn't called upon to vote, and didn't speak."
Cllr Webb said after the meeting he felt the Queens would be better off reverting back to a hotel or becoming luxury apartments.
"We need to protect that building," he said. "In Wisbech we already have a homeless hostel, the Foyer Project, down by the river. I think it needs spreading around the district, such as March for example."
And he felt plans by Luminus Group to include a shop and caf� simply wouldn't work.
"If you knew they were homing the homeless, who would want to use it?" he said. "It's not a very attractive proposition. I will always be against it in that location."
Councillor Kit Owen, Cabinet member for housing, pleaded with the committee to back the scheme and accused Wisbech Town Council- who also opposes it- of "scaremongering".
He said there was no evidence of bad behaviour by homeless people and "it is purely supposition. There are 3,000 people on the council waiting list for homes, and for years it's been about 2,000. This hostel is to serve the whole of Fenland, not just Wisbech.
"We are seeking increasing numbers affected by repossession which this facility will go some way to relieving. The additions of a bookshop, function room, offices, etc, will make this building very desirable to both residents and the local community."
He pleaded with the committee to "ignore the scaremongers who have no evidence for their perceived concerns".
The two councillors who backed Cllr Webb's motion were Councillor Phil Hatton and Councillor Bruce Wegg.
"You should never assume things are a foregone conclusion," said Cllr Hatton. Even though Fenland planning officers had recommended it for approval "nothing could be decided until the meeting. It would be a waste of time if it was any other way."
Brian Payne, chairman of the Wisbech Society, said his only concern was that the facade would not be altered and that internal alterations would not alter the character of the building. He got those assurances, he said.
"We don't interfere with the morals of people," he said. "There were some very bigoted comments made and I don't think they did Wisbech proud."
Council Leader Geoffrey Harper and his deputy, Councillor Fred Yeulett, issued a joint statement criticial of the decision.
"The administration represents the whole of the fenland community and that includes homeless and vulnerable people," they said.
"The planning committee's decision flies in the face of the decisions which had been taken by the policy development group and approved by Cabinet
"The decision by the planning committee to reject that leaves the whole scheme in limbo
"Offensive references to homeless and vulnerable people as undesirables is the worst kind of language to use in this situation.
"We would expect it from the BNP and not from people around here.
"Such inflammatory remarks will cause tension within the community.