Below is the copy of the letter sent to MHS Homes by Medway Labour Councillors regarding the future of Russell House.
We are writing to share our views regarding the proposals on the future of Russell House. As councillors we have been listening to views on the issue over the past couple of weeks as well as at the public meetings held on Thursday.
Can we firstly ask you to pass on our thanks to the MHS team who attended the public meetings. We recognise that there is no legal obligation to have attended the meetings and we know from people speaking to us after the meetings that although they may have disagreed with the proposals, they were grateful to have MHS officers present to answer questions.
For ease, we will look at two issues separately:
The proposals to remove existing residents and future use of the site.
Proposal to remove existing residents:-
It is clear to us as councillors that although some residents are content to consider moving, that is certainly not the consensus with all residents. In particular, some people shared with us that they were effectively told in moving to Russell House it was a “house for life” – clearly with this proposal it shows that was simply untrue.
There is also a question around affordability of alternative properties – some residents have been clear that part of the reason they have stayed at Russell House and not moved to other properties is that most other options have a higher rental cost.
Some residents have shared concerns that there is a community within Russell House which will be broken up by these proposals. Others have also pointed out that the location of Russell House means it is close to a community centre, a church, a pharmacy, a bus stop and a short walk to Chatham Town Centre – it will be almost impossible to find alternative provision which has all of this available to residents.
There is a recognition that if MHS was building a new sheltered facility in 2019 it wouldn’t be in the style of most of Russell House properties.
Clearly, as ward councillors we don’t have the budget information which the MHS board would have had available when deciding to consult on the removal of existing residents, but one point a number of residents and the wider community has raised is the option to redevelop Russell House to provide modern sheltered accommodation. Whilst we recognise that will cost MHS in the short term, we recognise that MHS are here for the long term and therefore as ward councillors would want this option to be given strong consideration.
Future Use of Site:-
We hope that MHS will give our suggestion strong consideration, but it is appropriate to give our view if the decision makers choose not to change their existing view.
We would say at the start we recognise that there is a shortage of accommodation options for those under 35 since the Conservative Government changed the rules for those individuals in a pernicious manner.
As councillors we also recognise the foyer schemes currently in place offer accommodation for often very vulnerable young people however it is with that backdrop we have major concerns about the proposals being suggested.
There are 22 wards across Medway, it makes no sense for 66% of the foyer buildings and 86% of foyer rooms being offered by MHS being not only within the same ward but 0.6 miles from each other. If MHS wishes to consider an increase in its foyer offer we would suggest giving other areas consideration to ensure that undue pressure isn’t placed on a relatively small part of the Medway community.
Alongside this, a large amount of residents around the Henry St / Newnham St area and the surrounding areas are particularly concerned about placing a foyer scheme for vulnerable young people within a community which ranks amongst the highest statistically for crime and antisocial behaviour.
We would therefore urge that if the removal of residents from Russell House does press ahead and there isn’t the appetite to redevelop for modern sheltered accommodation, that other alternative options rather than a foyer offer are given strong consideration.
Finally, a number of wider issues came up through the discussions and meetings which don’t directly touch upon the current or future use of Russell House – in particular around antisocial behaviour and crime. Whilst we appreciate that MHS doesn’t have sole responsibility for this, and we recognise there have been severe cuts in policing numbers across Kent, there is a need for improved communication between your anti-social behaviour officers, council officers, police and others.
We look forward to your response and update when the consultation feedback has been considered.
As these matters are of public interest we will be placing this letter on our social media outlets.
Councillor Vince Maple
Leader, Labour Group & Member for Chatham Central Ward
Councillor Julie Shaw
Member for Chatham Central Ward
Councillor Paul Godwin
Member for Chatham Central Ward
Councillor Tristan Osborne
Member for Luton & Wayfield Ward
See here for crime maps:
– Luton & Wayfield
– Chatham Central
Contact Tristan Osborne for more details.