Council rents entire hotel as 'circuit breaker' to Torbay's housing crisis

Joseph Bulmer

Key workers and those in need of temporary accommodation will be housed in a Torbay hotel for six months to provide a ‘circuit-breaker’ to the Bay’s housing crisis.

Torbay Council has agreed to rent all 47 rooms of the Richmond Hotel on Croft Road, Torquay, for six months from September 14.

Thirty-two rooms will then be rented to families in need of temporary accommodation and 15 to key workers.

The cost of the short-term contract is thought to be in the region of £450,000 – an average of £52 per room per night. Council staff will visit the hotel every day to support people staying there.

The decision is described as a ‘circuit-breaker’ that will help mitigate what the council says is an acute housing shortage.

The council is currently trying to help 125 households in need of temporary accommodation, around a third of which are families with children.

Many key workers, including NHS staff coming into the Bay, are also finding it difficult to find housing.

The Lib Dem/Independent-controlled council argues that Torbay’s lack of social housing, an increase in holiday lets and rent increases make such a scheme necessary.

It hopes renting the Richmond Hotel will give it some breathing room while it tries to find more long-term accommodation across the Bay.

Council leader Steve Darling said: “Torbay is in an extremely challenging situation in terms of its housing, with all sections of society experiencing difficulties in finding a home.

"Many families in temporary accommodation are having to be either moved every couple of days or even worse, being uprooted and moved into temporary accommodation outside of the area as far away as London and Bath.

“This temporary solution with Richmond Hotel will help us protect the mental health and wellbeing of our families, whilst providing some stability and continuity in terms of education and employment.”

Tara Harris, assistant director for community and customer services, told councillors the scale of the housing crisis and an expected increase of homelessness due to the 'ripple effects' of the pandemic means the hotel itself would not be enough to provide permanent improvement to the Bay’s housing crisis but would provide much-needed relief.

She said: “I don’t think anything is going to change, but this will give us a holding position while we can bring in other accommodation in April.

“Accessing social housing isn’t really a reality for the majority of people at the moment. We’re still very much looking at the private rented sector due to the lack of accommodation.”

There are thought to be more than 1,400 households awaiting affordable accommodation in the Bay, with demand quickly outstripping any new supply.

Councillor Chris Lewis said the Conservative opposition was supportive 'in principle' of renting the hotel but had concerns over safety.

He noted the hotel staff, touted by the council to be in the hotel providing support 24/7, would not be adequately trained to deal with ‘problem people’ if they arose.

He also wanted to make sure there would be no single men placed in the hotel.

Ms Harris said she did not expect a need for additional security 'due to the nature of the clientele' – families and key workers – but said it could be introduced if needed.

She added there would be no single men in temporary accommodation housed in the hotel.

The Richmond Hotel will now apply for planning permission for a temporary change of use for six months.

Last month, the council’s leadership split opinion in its coalition when said it would not directly provide housing to Afghan refugees because of the Bay’s accommodation shortage.

It subsequently launched a campaign trying to encourage landlord to provide homes but still says it won’t provide council homes to refugees fleeing the Taliban.