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Inside Anchorage House in Chatham after £9m refurbishment ready for 80 homeless families from Newham to move in

An empty, run-down office block has been given a £9 million refurbishment - and is now almost ready to provide a roof over the heads of 80 homeless families from London.

Anchorage House in Chatham, once home to Medway County and Family Court, was controversially snapped up by the east-end borough of Newham, sparking anger the much-needed accommodation was not being used to address Medway’s own housing backlog.

Each of the 81 apartments has a fully fitted kitchen
Each of the 81 apartments has a fully fitted kitchen

As London families prepare to move in, the prominent riverside site has been transformed into 81 temporary accommodation apartments with fully-fitted kitchens, central heating and ample space for modern living.

Some of the self-contained flats in the 11-storey building boast ensuite bathrooms and panoramic views over the River Medway.

KentOnline and Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, have been shown around the revamped building just weeks before homeless people from east London are due to move in.

Miss Tolhurst was impressed with the standard of the accommodation, but “frustrated” that it will be used by people from outside of Medway.

Chatham tower block, Anchorage House has been converted into flats for the homeless
Chatham tower block, Anchorage House has been converted into flats for the homeless

She said: ”I am deeply disappointed that another borough has chosen to discharge itself of its duties.

“We have a housing problem here in Medway. I have seen for myself the type of accommodation we are putting some people in and it is sub-standard.

“I shall be asking questions of Newham as to why they think it is acceptable.”

Her concerns are echoed by KentOnline readers, who question why local people in need of homes are not being put first.

Chad Grendel wrote: “There are local families that need a home. Talk about rubbing their noses in it! Shame on Medway Council and all those allowing this to happen.”

“There are local families that need a home. Talk about rubbing their noses in it!”

A commenter using the name Alwaysgotsomethingtosay added: “To all the local Medway homeless: ‘Here is what you could have had’. But hey, let us ignore our own locals’ plight and fill it with DFLs.You couldn't make it up!”

Private company Theori Housing Management Services, which specialises in working with primarily London local authorities to provide accommodation for the homeless, has undertaken the refurbishment project.

The company, which has 23 years of experience working with landlords and local authorities, has exercised permitted development rights (PDR) which means it does not have to get planning permission from the local council for a change of use from office to residential.

While the system bypasses the often lengthy process of getting approval, it does have to adhere to stringent standards and regulations.

The bathroom in one of the new flats at Anchorage House
The bathroom in one of the new flats at Anchorage House

Tony Theori, director of the housing company, explained that PDRs were introduced in 2013 and created a free-for-all for developers. The system came under fire for housing vulnerable tenants in shoddy accommodation with no windows or basic facilities.

But, legislation brought in in 2015 and 2019 have tightened the requirements.

The Greek Cypriot businessman said: “There have been a lot of misconceptions and bad headlines about PDRs.

“But today it’s pretty much like doing a new-build.”

The same surveys, parking facilities and contamination studies have to be approved by building inspectors.

One of the family bedroom with an ensuite
One of the family bedroom with an ensuite

And since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, when more than 70 people died, health and safety and fire regulations have been scrutinised, particularly in high-rise buildings.

At Anchorage house all of the apartments, which comprise studios for couples and two-bedroom flats for families of four, have fire alarms, sprinkler systems and access to lifts.

There’s also an intercom connection to the main reception on the ground floor where 24-hour concierge staff monitor general maintenance, emergencies and anti-social behaviour.

Mr Theori’s company acts as the middleman between the landlord seeking a profit from a disused property and the local authority, many of which have dire homeless problems.

He said: “I deal with 45 local authorities, mostly in London and along the M25 corridor.

“It’s the first time we have worked in Kent. I speak to housing chiefs daily and it’s difficult out there. Everyone’s under pressure.

“Some authorities are paying up to £220 per night per person to put somebody in a hotel.”

Compounded with the hike in rents landlords are charging, many councils are turning to companies like Theori to ease their housing crisis and the huge financial burden it creates.

Mr Theori, added: "We are a business, not a charity. But we do the best we can for people.

"We are here to help."

In December, Medway Council confirmed it was aware the government had earmarked the site as potential accommodation for asylum seekers.

There was speculation in October that people were being moved in after locals spotted mattresses being taken into the block.

Speaking at the time, Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), who is portfolio holder for housing and property on Medway Council, said: “I am deeply frustrated and concerned that Anchorage House, an office block in Chatham, is going to be used for temporary accommodation purposes by another local authority.

The reception area will be manned 24 hours
The reception area will be manned 24 hours

"This will undoubtedly place significant pressure on local services including schools, infrastructure and council services.

"The accommodation has been brought forward through permitted development rights and Medway Council has not been contacted or consulted as part of this process.

"We are urging the government to urgently review this planning policy which is not fit for purpose."

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