KCC de­nies clos­ing cen­tre to save money

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Opinion - by Sarah Mar­shall smar­shall@thek­m­group.co.uk

NEW flats pro­posed for the site of a cen­tre for dis­abled peo­ple, which is un­der threat of clo­sure, could save Kent County Coun­cil money.

The county coun­cil is propos­ing to shut the day cen­tre or Day Op­por­tu­ni­ties Ser­vice in St Stephen’s Walk, South Ash­ford, de­spite strong op­po­si­tion from dis­abled peo­ple, their par­ents, car­ers and Ash­ford Men­cap.

KCC plans to build sup­ported hous­ing for vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in its place and says dis­abled peo­ple who use the cen­tre will be able to con­tinue ac­tiv­i­ties else­where and get new op­por­tu­ni­ties within the com­mu­nity.

Gov­ern­ment think­ing is that dis­abled peo­ple should be in­te­grated in the com­mu­nity both in terms of hous­ing and day ser­vices. Rather than liv­ing in shel­tered res­i­den­tial cen­tres peo­ple en­ter “sup­ported in­de­pen­dent liv­ing” and live in in­di­vid­ual flats with car­ers com­ing in to help them, as re­quired.

But there is an eco­nomic ben­e­fit for the lo­cal au­thor­ity be­cause when peo­ple move into sup­ported in­de­pen­dent liv­ing they be­come el­i­gi­ble for hous­ing ben­e­fit and other wel­fare al­lowances and there­fore the lo­cal au­thor­ity only has to pay for sup­port ser­vices.

If the St Stephen’s Walk cen­tre is closed and flats built in its place, there would be a sav­ing for Kent County Coun­cil but not for the tax payer who pays the hous­ing ben­e­fit.

An out­line plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion for 12 one-bed­room flats has been sub­mit­ted to Ash­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil and sur­vey­ors have taken mea­sure­ments. Staff and cen­tre users were up­set that they only found out the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion had been made when they saw a no­tice on a lamp­post.

Cllr Gra­ham Gibbens (Con), the cab­i­net mem­ber re­spon­si­ble, apol­o­gised. A sec­ond apol­ogy was made when sur­vey­ors ar­rived unan­nounced.

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