Council admits it should have consulted more

Dozens of furious neighbours packed into a small room in Fenham Library to challenge councillors over the controversial plans.

Residents “shafted” by plans to open a recovery hub for drug and alcohol addicts at a community library confronted council bosses in a fiery meeting.

Dozens of furious neighbours packed into a small room in Fenham Library to take Newcastle City Council chiefs to task over the hugely controversial decision.

The local authority was accused of “doing things by the back door” and acting in “a deceitful and underhanded way” at the angry debate, during which one woman was threatened with expulsion by a PCSO for remonstrating angrily at a councillor.

Throughout the process of obtaining planning permission for the project, council documents referred to the new development only as a “health and wellbeing hub” – with no mention of addiction recovery services.

The council admitted at the heated meeting on Thursday afternoon that it should have consulted more with residents, but maintained that the proposal is “necessary” to reduce the city’s drug problem and to save the library from closure.

Many residents have said that they will not take their children to a centre used by recovering addicts, though the council stresses that it will not house clinical services, prescription distribution or a needle exchange.

Eugene Milne, the city’s director of public health, said: “If we don’t do this, we will lose the money. The money will go and the library will close.

“We won’t have the facility and if we don’t have the facility to support people getting off drugs and alcohol that means we will have more people who don’t recover.

“We will have more people taking drugs in the city and the problem will get worse. Everyone here will be exposed to that.”

Residents demanded that building work to transform the library is halted until a full consultation is carried out.

One said: “I suggest that, given the lack of consultation with the community and schools, that maybe we put a stop to the project – put it on hold and bring it to proper consultation with the community.

“On balance, the reason the community is so emotional and upset and angry is that they are talking about their children and safeguarding.

“The increased risk to the children and the community has not been thought through.”

However, Mr Milne told the meeting that he does not expect a new consultation will take place, adding: “I don’t believe the client group we will have here poses a threat to the community.”

The authority says that the new facility will be designed to support addicts and their families by providing access to private consultations, a gym and a cafe.

There will also be health and nutrition advice, space for family activities, counselling services, and stop smoking support.

A number of residents said they feared drug dealers would target recovering addicts using the centre and that children could pick up pills and needles would be left nearby.

Sacred Heart Catholic High School headteacher Anita Bath said: “I don’t trust the planning service or public health at the moment.

“It would be extremely sensible if this was slowed down or halted.

“I would like some assessment done on how this facility will affect children using the bus stop or children walking to school.”

Coun Kim McGuinness, the council’s cabinet member for culture, sport and public health, said: “What is clear is that a lot more consultation could have been done. Every single time there is a planning application people say there is more could have been done.

“But for this purpose, where there is a lot of emotion in the community it is obvious more should have been done. We accept that.”

Coun McGuinness promised that the council would have a “proper look” at reviewing its consultation process and that a second public meeting would be held at a larger venue next Thursday.


This article originally appeared on ChronicleLive

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