Politicians and charity leaders have spoken of their determination to stop children growing up in hotel rooms and homes converted from offices.

The Children’s Commissioner for England this week published research revealing how thousands of children in the UK live in temporary accommodation in converted shipping containers and office buildings and B&Bs.

These may be miles from their schools and where they grew up because of an acute shortage of housing.

The Watford Observer spoke to council leaders and charities around the area to find out the extent of the problem in south Hertfordshire.

In nearby Borehamwood, a scheme is ongoing to build 28 modular homes. It was the most unpopular scheme in Hertsmere, amassing more than 400 objections, with the homes likened to ‘containers’ but Hertsmere Borough Council’s plans were approved and construction of the homes on the garage site is coming to an end.

Despite all the criticism, Hertsmere, which has 555 applicants on the housing register, sees this type of modular home development as a “viable option” to help address the need for short term accommodation.

A council spokesperson added: “It enables us to use our land to provide safe, comfortable and secure homes that are building regulations compliant, in a location close to schools and facilities.”

Watford Borough Council, which has 774 households on the housing register and 108 households in temporary accommodation, says it would never consider building a container-home like development in the town saying it is not “acceptable” to house anyone in shipping containers. The council would rather use traditional building methods for any new homes for use as temporary accommodation. It would consider modular homes.

The Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor made no secret that he was unhappy that a government inspector overruled the council’s decision to refuse 15 tiny flats, some of them windowless, at an office building in Wellstones in Watford town centre earlier this year under the permitted development rights.

Watford Observer:

(An application was submitted to convert this building into 15 flats. Photo Google Street View)

Following this week’s report, Mr Taylor said: “It is simply unacceptable that at the moment government rules do not allow councils to challenge totally substandard housing that contain no windows. I’ve made it very clear to the government that we must see these rules changed.

“In Watford, we’re one of the few places in the south east of England to be reducing the number of families living in temporary accommodation. Over the last two years it has almost halved and that number is continuing to fall.”

The council works with Watford Community Housing to deliver social rented homes with 50 to be delivered over the next five years.

Three Rivers District Council has just finished building a new block of 17 flats in Rickmansworth. The Bury is temporary accommodation which will house families from the district who are waiting for a permanent home.

The scheme will save the council around £100,000 per annum but leader of the council Cllr Sara Bedford says the real saving is the huge reduction in disruption and stress to families. Two further temporary accommodation sites are planned in South Oxhey.

Watford Observer:

(The Bury is a new block of 17 flats in central Rickmansworth. Photo: Three Rivers District Council)

The council currently has 60 households in temporary accommodation, including 13 in Harlow in Essex.

Cllr Bedford said: “I have never been happy that Three Rivers has been forced to use converted accommodation in Harlow. Three Rivers is working with a variety of public and private partners to build more permanent homes, but sadly these will never be enough in an area of high housing cost and demand.”

Watford Observer:

(Cllr Sara Bedford in the kitchen of a one-bedroomed flat in The Bury. Photo: Three Rivers District Council)

Home Start is a charity which works with all three districts providing support for families in crisis.

Sometimes, families find themselves living in B&B’s and hotels - although HomeStart is not dealing with any families currently living in B&B’s.

CEO Emma Power says living in B&B’s or hotels can put stress on families.

She said: “Space is the biggest one. If you have little children there is no space for them to play. If you have older children there is no privacy. Just the daily things you do like cooking are really difficult.

“But if there is no housing available, there is nowhere to go. That is the biggest problem. There is a shortage of housing across the whole country.”