Neighbours object to ‘disturbed’ families visiting Oxford greenbelt

The property in Kennington

The property in Kennington - Credit: Archant

Proposals to convert a sprawling family home in the Oxford greenbelt into a pioneering respite centre for troubled inner city families have stirred a backlash amongst neighbours who fear their tranquil village life will be ruptured and their properties devalued.

The property in Kennington

The property in Kennington - Credit: Archant

Hackney Council has put in an offer on a £1.25m seven bedroom property complete with “bespoke treehouse” and ancient wood in Kennington, and anonymously submitted plans to the council there to change its residential use.

With nearly £2m funding from the Department for Education’s Innovation programme, which explores fresh ways of working in children’s social work, the plan is to house up to three families at a time to provide them with a break away in a ‘home away from home’ for up to three weeks, allowing them to strengthen family relationships.

Young people at risk of gang involvement or sexual exploitation, and families with younger children who are also on the edge of going into care will be targeted.

But 37 objections have been filed from neighbours overwhelmingly opposed to the plan. Former social worker Pat Mabbutt said: “The families will be placed in a new environment without their usual supports, where the culture and expectations are very different.

“The community with their own expectations have chosen to live in a quiet village and to have families arrive who may well disrupt their lives and devalue their properties will change this and naturally cause resentment.”

John Brookes said the plans would not fit in with “village spirit”, while Brian Cooper added: “Unless this is a wind up we fear that someone in authority should reconsider the scheme and if necessary place these disturbed families in a more suitable area.”

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Another objector commented: “Troubled families are defined by the government as those who are involved in youth crime or antisocial behaviour, have children who are excluded from school or regularly truanting or have an adult on out of work benefits. They will be free to roam Kennington, Abingdon and Oxford without restriction.”

The council has also come under fire for choosing the village just two miles out of Oxford, which is the third most expensive city in Britain per square metre, coming in after just Westminster and St Albans.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of campaign group the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Serious questions have to be asked about this purchase. The council consistently say that they are struggling for funds in the wake of central government’s necessary savings programme, so it is surprising they’ve been able to conjure up the funds for such a significant property purchase.

“Local taxpayers will rightly wonder whether there were not existing council properties that could serve the same purpose.”

But a spokesman for the council said the location is “ideal”.

“It will give the families involved the opportunity to spend time together away from their homes in a tranquil location with plenty of space that is still a commutable distance from London,” he said.

“We are confident that this, as a preventative programme, will save money in the long run.”