Refurbishment and extension of empty Russell House given the go-ahead

Photo: Future Chatham

A former housing shelter for elderly people will be refurbished and extended to become a foyer for vulnerable young people after plans were recently approved by Medway Council.

MHS Homes put forward a planning application seeking permission to build two additional one-bed living units and to remodel the frontage of the empty Russell House to include a covered walkway and glazed communal rooms for the young residents.

The refurbishment work will also see new fencing installed along the perimeter of the site, soft landscaping features and a gated stairwell leading up to Magpie Hall Road.

​MHS Homes has already been granted permission to demolish the row of garages at Russell Court off Henry Street and replace these with 12 parking bays for staff and visitors.

The new-look frontage of Russell House. Photo: Frankham Projects

However, the plans were met with criticism from local residents and Kent Fire & Rescue Service during the consultation period.

​Seven letters of objection from three neighbours raised their concerns to the impact on local parking after the lock-up garages are demolished, lack of public access between Henry Street and Newnham Street and the potential for the foyer to contribute to crime in the local area.

Kent Fire & Rescue Service also voiced their concerns about the gating of the MHS Homes-owned site and the impact this may have on emergency access through to nearby properties in Newnham Street. A solution was agreed that the gates will include a ‘suitable lock’ that can be accessed by the fire service.

One letter of support was received, although concerns were raised about the ‘fortress-style’ place created by the extensive use of boundary fencing and the suggestion for up to three trees to be planted.

The new foyer is expected to provide accommodation for vulnerable young people aged 16 to 25, who for ‘a variety of reasons are unable to live in their family home but are not ready to live alone’.

A statement in the planning application clarifies that the future occupants of the units are ‘not young offenders’, but are ‘merely young people who have to live on their own for the first time (parent dies or is sick, etc)’.

The young residents will be living independently although ‘minor assistance’ and a 24-hour warden will be available.

Photo: Future Chatham

The closure of the former housing shelter for elderly people was announced back in February 2019, after MHS Homes said that Russell House failed to ‘provide the standards required of modern sheltered accommodation’ in line with central government guidance.

Russell House first opened in 1972 and consisted of 29 flats for people aged 55 or over – 24 of which were ‘difficult to let’ studio flats, according to MHS Homes.

Fierce concerns were raised by residents living in the surrounding area of Henry Street and Newnham Street after the announcement of the shelter’s closure came to light by mistake.

Speaking about the closure in June 2019 to Future Chatham, Cllr Jo Howcroft-Scott for Luton & Wayfield explained: “A foyer in Russell House may change the character or identity of the place that already has many challenges both social and economic.

“Many local residents feel MHS do not do enough for the existing community without adding more trouble to the mix.

“MHS Homes are now putting together an application and a presentation to planning. We will look closely at this and work hard to achieve the best results for the local community.”

It is not yet known when work will begin on the refurbishment and extension of Russell House.

This article has been kindly reproduced with thanks to Future Chatham.

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