CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a hostel in Chiswick for newly homeless youngsters have been approved.
St Margaret's House, which is currently used as supported housing for single mothers, will be expanded to accommodate 26 'young people at risk of leaving care', aged between 16 and 21.
The hostel, in Sutton Court Road, was given the go-ahead at last Wednesday's (December 15) sustainable development committee meeting in a split vote. Up to 100 residents packed into Hounslow Civic Centre, having travelled from Chiswick Town Hall in three coaches, to hear councillors debate the application.
Many members of the public had raised concerns the hostel would attract drug-dealing and other criminal activity, putting neighbouring residents at risk. However, representatives from Shepherds Bush Housing Group, which will run the site, assured them it would only house youths with low or medium support needs and not those considered 'high risk'.
The hostel will be staffed at all times and will have two employees on duty in the evenings and overnight. It will also be equipped with CCTV.
Councillor Paul Lynch, lead member for children's services under the previous administration, said he could understand residents' 'apprehensions' but felt many of their fears were based on horror stories about a few badly-run units.
"This hostel will give a chance to those people most likely to benefit from that chance. It will house the people who are least likely to cause problems," he told the Chronicle. "It's extremely important to support young people leaving care, and those who have become homeless, because that keeps them out of the vicious spiral of being degraded and going into a life of crime and drug dependency.
"There's a disproportionate number of care leavers who are either in the prison system or drug-dependent. That's because we haven't had this sort of facility to give them a leg up."
SBHG will now buy the run-down property from Hounslow Council and redevelop it so it can be used to accommodate young people from across the borough.
The association will help those residents find education, training and employment before moving on to alternative accommodation. It will also teach them life skills, like cookery and DIY.