Published: 12:20, 02 August 2021
| Updated: 12:25, 02 August 2021
A councillor says young people's lives could be at risk if a housing association goes ahead with plans to house them in an area which has high levels of crime.
Medway's biggest landlord mhs homes is due to open temporary accommodation for 30 young people aged between 16 and 25 in Russell House, Russell Court, Luton, Chatham.
A report presented to councillors said the accommodation, known as a "foyer project", which is due to open next year would be for young adults "who for a variety of reasons are unable to live in their family home but are not ready to live alone".
The £3 million plans - which were approved by the council's planning committee in 2019 - have been called in by ward councillor Simon Curry who has grave concerns over the proposals.
The Labour councillor said he and his two ward colleagues have been working with the Medway Task Force and other organisations including mhs homes themselves to try and improve the area but as things stood, he is apprehensive about the plans.
According to Police.uk figures, over the past three years, 45% of crimes in the area have been violent or sexual offences, while anti-social behaviour offences accounted for just under 20%.
Cllr Curry said: "If you put a vulnerable 16-year-old in the middle of an area where there's prostitution, drugs, and the county lines gangs are operating and recruiting people on a regular basis...some of them are going to get scooped up into that crime world.
"We know there's huge crime levels in that area, which we are trying to tackle, and just dropping a whole load of vulnerable young people in the middle of that is going to cause more problems and put their lives at risk.
"I think foyer projects are a good idea and they do work; getting young people from care back into the community with the support and help that they need, there's no doubt that foyers are a good way of doing that.
"We have no problem with mhs and their use of foyer projects in principle, that's fine, and the young people they mentor and they help and support do really well when they come out."
The building has stood empty since a sheltered living complex - also run by mhs homes - was wound down, leaving it to become the target of squatters.
Cllr Curry - who is due to present a member's item on the issue during a scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday - added how he would like to see mhs homes invest in projects such as those being run by the Arches Local group to improve the community and, if possible, use the building as homes for local people.
He also explained how the area had been the subject of a recent BBC Panorama documentary where the issues with county lines had been laid bare.
He said: "It didn't really reflect the whole picture of how good that community actually is, the way that the community can rally round, and they want to do some more.
"The struggle we are having with mhs is to actually put some investment in there. That's what we're after is for them to spend a bit of money."
mhs homes says the development will provide an accredited learning centre for local people to use. Their plans also include office space for local organisations.
The firm also told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that 70% of their foyer residents in the past three years have been supported into employment, education and training.
The company's chief executive, Ashley Hook, said: "Russell House will be modelled on our two successful existing schemes, both of which received positive ratings in a recent quality assessment from Medway Council.
"The foyer model is a proven approach to help young people develop into responsible adults and to reduce the likelihood of them being involved in anti-social behaviour.
"Young people deserve our support and help, and we’re fully committed to working with the local community and partners to make Russell House a success.”