Proposal could see mental health patients in “pods”

Politics / Sat 11th Mar 2017 at 03:18pm

A proposal which could see mental health patients housed in metal shipping container-type ‘pods’ in North Weald has been described as an “extremely risky project”.

Epping Forest District Council’s cabinet will decide on Thursday whether to progress the idea and submit a planning application for three ‘pods’ to be sited in a car park at Norway House to provide accommodation for six ‘single vulnerable homeless people’.

A district council report gives a legal definition of “vulnerable people” and adds: “In reality, the vast majority of single vulnerable people are people with serious mental health problems – which can include schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder.

Parish councillor Terry Blanks told Monday’s parish council meeting he was “appalled” at the proposal.

He added: “The fact they will be housed two to a shipping container seems to be totally inappropriate.”

Councillor Andy Tyler raised concerns that the ‘pods’ would be next to Norway House, the district council’s homeless hostel, which accommodates children.

He described such a mix as “a recipe for disaster”.

He added: “I can’t see how this proposal has even got this far.”

Councillor Sheila Jackman said she had “grave concerns about the whole scheme” and added the £345,000 cost was “a hell of a lot of money for an extremely risky project”.

She added: “The thought of a security firm turning up and addressing a situation with mentally ill people would make the situation much worse with someone with a uniform turning up.”

She added: “It’s a really serious situation that is being suggested. There are very great risks in the proposal.”

Staff at Norway House have voiced “strong concerns about the heightened risk to staff and other residents about increasing the number of occupants at Norway House with single vulnerable people”, the cabinet report reveals.

In response, Epping Forest District Council has said the six additional people who would be living on the site would not warrant a need to increase on-site staff however “to assist, support and protect Norway House staff when they or other residents feel at risk from residents, particularly out of normal office hours and when lone working, it is proposed that a private security company be appointed to provide security officers to attend Norway House on an ad-hoc basis when required”.

If the pilot scheme proves successful, the district council says it will consider using the ‘pods’ elsewhere in the district.

The district council says such accommodation would cost less than traditional-built, permanent accommodation and the cost of placing homeless households in expensive bed and breakfast hotels.

The cabinet report describes the ‘pods’ as the same size as shipping containers, of robust metal construction that can be painted in a range of colours and can be stacked with staircase access.

They have thermal insulation and come fitted with carpets, blinds, internal fittings – there would be a shared kitchen – and white goods.

District and parish councillor Anne Grigg told the parish council meeting she was open-minded having considered the information available and would consider all information ahead of any planning application which would need to be submitted should the cabinet decide to progress with the proposals.

The parish council is to write to Epping Forest District Council expressing its “grave concerns” over the proposal.

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