A PLAN to use an outdoor education centre as emergency accommodation for homeless people was approved by Monmouthshire council’s cabinet – despite opposition from residents and ward councillors.

The Gilwern centre will be used to house up to nine homeless people until August 21 if required, as increasing numbers of vulnerable people, displaced by the pandemic, look for homes.

The council has found 56 accommodation units – such as bed and breakfasts or hotels – to support homeless people over the last eight weeks but is appealing to find more.

A council report said the centre’s rural location “is not ideal for homeless people”, but at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday councillor Sara Jones said “last resort measures are now needed.”

“These individuals did not choose to be in this position, they have been displaced by a pandemic that is out of both our and their control,” she said.

“It could be any of us in this position.”

But councillor Jane Pratt, a cabinet member who also represents the Llanelly Hill ward, said she believed the centre was in the “wrong place” for such a use.

She also said only homeless people who have tested negative for coronavirus should be offered accommodation in the facility, and that they should be provided with PPE (personal protective equipment) and have a Covid-19 care plan in place.

“I am very concerned that if this is not the case these residents will have the freedom to access the local area and potentially spread the disease,” Cllr Pratt said.

“It is vital the local population are not put at risk by anyone moving into this facility who could introduce the virus into the community.”

Cllr Dimitri Batrouni, the council’s Labour group leader, described the comments as ‘very disturbing’ and ‘offensive.’

“These are human beings so let’s not forget that,” he said.But Cllr Pratt said he had “got the wrong end of the stick”, adding that the Crisis charity supports homeless people being offered a Covid-19 care plan.

Jon Crawley, chairman of the residents association at Crawshay Bailey Close, criticised the plans and said there was “no consultation.”

And at the meeting, Cllr Jones offered an apology to residents who were not consulted before a council report – which said they had been informed of the scheme – had been published.

Ward councillor Simon Howarth said the council should have considered alternative sites that were not near “a large rural settlement.”

But councillor Richard John was among cabinet members to support the scheme, saying: “It just seems crazy to have this accommodation lie empty when there are Monmouthshire residents who have lost their homes and need somewhere to live.”

Mr Crawley added: ’’The result of the MCC cabinet vote was entirely predictable.

’’Staff tell me that physical preparations at the OEC for the arrival of residents have been ongoing for two weeks, on Paul Matthews’ instruction.

’’MCC informed Brecon Beacons Planning Authority that they have granted themselves change of use planning permission, two weeks ago. They used covid19 legislation, citing a local ’emergency’, thus avoiding all of the usual checks and balances.

’’There was no consultation of residents.

’’As far as I’m concerned the cabinet serve no other purpose than to give the public the illusion of democratic accountability.’’