As about 80 homeless London families prepare to relocate to an empty tower block, Medway Council has admitted it’s powerless to prevent other local authorities relocating their needy people.
Anchorage House in Chatham town centre has been converted to accommodate residents from the east London borough of Newham to alleviate the borough’s housing crisis.
The move, clinched by a private housing association – which bypassed the usual planning permission process – has angered some politicians and people living in Medway who believe locals should be given priority for the new temporary accommodation.
Medway Council, which has its own housing problems, says it has never had to cope with such a high influx of tenants from outside its boundary before.
It said it was not consulted about the contract between Newham and Theori Housing Management Services and has no additional funds to support up to 200 extra residents.
It added it would impact its already hard-pressed and financially-challenged welfare and social services.
Cllr Adrian Gulvin, leader of the opposition Conservative Group, fears the move could open the floodgates to similar deals which are allowed without the developer having to contribute towards funds for health, education and recreational facilities.
He said: “It is out of our control The law needs to be changed but that’s not going to happen any time soon.
“We have had families move down from London before, but not on this scale and to much smaller buildings.
“It could happen again and again. I understood why the government introduced permitted development rights (PDR) but don’t think it considered the implications.
“Not just for the local communities but the effects for those who move here, away from their local environment, friends and families.”
Theori, a London-based company which specialises in working with local authorities and private landlords, has overseen the £9 million refurbishment of the 11-storey building which was home to Medway County and Family Court.
It used (PDR) which meant it did not have to apply to Medway Council for a change of use from office to residential status.
Cllr Naushabah Khan, Medway’s portfolio holder for housing and property, said: “We are conscious there will be an impact on local services, as the families and children placed by Newham council will need to access essential services.
“As this accommodation has been brought forward through permitted development rights there are no contributions paid to the council.
“These contributions are usually paid by developers and are used to help mitigate the impact of the development on the local area and community.
“However, we will continue to work with Newham council to address any issues that may arise to ensure the impact on Medway and our residents is mitigated and limited.
“We are also continuing to hold discussions with Newham around the possibility of some of the units in Anchorage House being offered to Medway residents.”
A Medway Council spokesman said: “In terms of the scale of this particular project, this is not a scenario Medway has been faced with previously, however, households have been placed in Medway for many years which often creates additional demand on existing services.
“This not something we can stop happening.”
He added: “Medway does use out-of-area placements when necessary. However, this is a last resort and we do not have anything on the size and scale as Anchorage House.”
Newham has said it has “offered” some units to Medway to house local residents.
The London borough has pledged to help with social care support for those moving in adding it has an “ongoing duty” to provide alternative accommodation for tenants when the temporary arrangement at Anchorage House expires.
Medway Council has said it was in talks with Newham and arrangements have yet to be finalised.
The High Street building has been fitted with 81 self-contained units which comprise studios for couples and two-bedroom family flats. Some have en-suite bathrooms and panoramic views over the River Medway.
On a recent tour, MP Kelly Tolhurst said while she welcomed housing for homeless people, she was “frustrated” it was benefiting those who are not from Medway.
She said: “We have a homeless problem here. I have seen for myself the type of accommodation we are putting some people in and it is substandard compared to this.”
Last December, it emerged the Home Office was considering the property as a dispersal unit for asylum seekers.