Anger erupts dur­ing ad­dicts’ ‘hub’ de­bate

The Chronicle - - News -

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 Res­i­dent at Fen­ham Li­brary meet­ing 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.

Res­i­dents con­front New­cas­tle City Coun­cil bosses at a meet­ing over the fu­ture of Fen­ham Li­brary

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