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CRASH seeks homes deal with Highways Agency

PROPERTIES BLIGHTED by road building plans could soon be used to house hundreds of homeless people.

The Highways Agency this week met the Construction Industry Relief for the Single Homeless - CRASH, a charity which works with the industry to convert derelict buildings into shelters. The meeting explored the possible use of properties purchased as part of road building schemes and now left empty.

CRASH director Tom Biddlecombe stressed that talks are still at the exploratory stage. 'The HA has a remit to let all its properties at the commercial rate if possible, so we're discussing what can be done within the current rules,' he said.

A spokesman for the HA said it had a duty to the taxpayer to give good value for money, but added: 'We are keen to make progress with the offer. We will be finding out the needs of the charity and seeing to what extent we can fit in'.

Last March the Department of Transport was criticised in the Commons after it admitted that the HA owned more than 1,500 properties. Many had been acquired as a result of road schemes which had been cancelled or postponed as part of government reviews of the road programme. However, an HA spokesman claimed that not all these properties would be available to CRASH.

'Some are for demolition, some are for sale and the rest will be vacant. The number available will depend on the state of repair, and the budget and timespan involved,' he said.

Homeless charities Crisis, Centrepoint and Shelter, who could be handed the buildings to run once they have been renovated, welcomed the initiative. Centrepoint spokeswoman Lisa Mangan said that with 250,000 young homeless in the UK any initiative to provide housing was a good thing. But she warned: 'Homelessness is not just about roofs, it's about finding appropriate places and giving support.'

Matthew Jones

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