Following my written question to Cabinet about the empty Food Centre unit. I’ve received a very speedy response from the Leader of Milton Keynes Council, Cllr Pete Marland:
I am aware of the petition although no one has contacted MK Council for a response or to discuss the matter.
I believe many people will have signed the petition with the best of intentions and would be puzzled as to why no action has been taken to ask MK Council to respond.
However I do believe it raises an important issue and have already looked into the matter to understand if any action is possible or desirable, I am therefore thankful to be able to share the action MKC has taken.
As background, Milton Keynes Council does not own or operate the Food Centre. MKC disposed of the building as an asset in the 1990s.
The building is now owned by Hermes. The part of the building in question was operated as a supermarket by Sainsburys until 2009 and is under a long leasehold (over 100 years) to that company. Discussions are ongoing on the future of the site.
It is necessary to draw a distinction between homelessness and rough sleeping. Not all people who are homeless sleep rough. MK Council has a statutory obligation to house homeless people who meet certain criteria, however the problem goes much further than those the Council are required to house, for every person we accept the need to house, we are unable to assist many more.
Rough sleeping is very complex issue. Not all those who sleep rough are homeless and many have complex needs beyond their housing situation and have more complex service requirements. We are currently developing a new Rough Sleeping Strategy on this issue.
I have had a number of informal conversations with a number of providers of homelessness services and other interested parties on this matter.
All service providers in the sector I have spoken to agree that the building is unsuitable for the purpose being proposed.
There is agreement that the building is too large and providing shelter is more than simply providing a roof. The space is large, would be costly to heat and would take significant investment to make it suitable. These are funds that are needed to provide services.
I have met with Sainsburys and raised the issue. The building is subject to both a lease covenant and planning regulations that limit the use to food retail. It would take time and resources to remove or change these for a temporary scheme.
If the building was able to be used, resources would be required to fund and operate the scheme. It is not feasible or desirable for the building to be in open use. Those using a homeless shelter often require more services than housing need, and better longer term outcomes are achieved helping people access all the services they need. MK has a number of excellent schemes to provide homeless people with help and advice, none have expressed an interest in the site and many have expressed the opinion the building is unsuitable.
One excellent scheme, the Winter Night Shelter, operates between November and March, and has been operating for a number of years. They have a number of centres, including CMK. Not only do they provide a bed and food but also seek to assist in signposting people to other services. They, and other organisations, do a good job but their capacity is limited.
Therefore it would seem that the Food Centre is not suitable for operation as a winter shelter but other valuable schemes are in operation that require assistance.
I would therefore ask that anyone wishing to help would donate to the Winter Night Shelter by texting their donation to 70070 typing WINS01 and the amount you want to give, e.g. £10, £5, £4, £3, £2 or £1 or by donating to other housing charities in order to ensure they can continue to provide the services they already provide.
If you are able to make contact with the originator of the petition I would be grateful if you could make them aware of this response and the ability they have to make those that signed the petition aware that a donation along the lines of the above will go a long way to ensuring all those that require help are able to access the assistance they require.