A HOUSING company has apologised to neighbours of an apartment block being used for homeless young people for not keeping them informed of the move, but denied the youths pose a risk to the community.

Nearly 200 concerned residents packed out Cockton Hill Methodist Church, in Bishop Auckland, to hear about the changes at the nearby General Bucher Court.

In July, Home Group took over a three-year lease of 28 apartments in two blocks of the former old people’s home to provide a service to help homeless youths aged 16 and 25 turn their lives around.

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At Tuesday’s meeting, which was also attended by Durham County Council, which is funding the service, residents expressed their anger at the speed at which General Bucher Court had been taken over and how they had not been kept informed.

County councillor for Bishop Auckland town centre Neil Harrison called the lack of consultation a disgrace, but Maria Hammond, from Home Group, said communications were being improved including the formation of a committee with nearby residents.

Residents also said they feared a rise in crime in the area and believed people with criminal convictions could be housed in the blocks.

The police and Home Group said the current residents do not pose a risk to the community, although neighbours said they have heard loud music, fights and anti-social behaviour.

Neighbourhood Inspector Martin Peace said there were no known criminals living there, but said officers would monitor the situation.

The first block houses people for up to 14 weeks who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, while block two allows people to stay for up to two years, with residents given daily support by Home Group staff.

Home Group said it hoped for the centre to be part of the community rather than like “Fort Knox”, and said the service would be used to help vulnerable people who wanted to turn their lives around.

Ms Hammond said there was a growing need for support for homeless youths in Bishop Auckland, with 30 people waiting for a place at the centre.

She said: “We do not want vulnerable young people sofa surfing or on the streets. They are often homeless through no fault of their own and need the support of the community.”