DURHAM Prison’s governor backed plans for a drug and alcohol treatment centre immediately outside his jail as councillors approved the scheme.

Tim Allen said such centres were the backbone of the public response to drug use and the plans, from the Durham Drug and Alcohol Commissioning Team (DACT), provided an opportunity to make Durham a centre of excellence and create a safer environment.

DACT’s plans to move from William Robson House, off Claypath, to 81-88 Whinney Hill were given the go-ahead by Durham County Council’s central and east area planning committee meeting at County Hall on Tuesday.

The centre will be used by up to 200 clients, both prisoners and others, visiting voluntarily and by appointment, councillors heard.

Mr Allen said: “These people want to engage and change their lives.
“These individuals (prisoners) will return to your communities. We know there are other people who are harmed by drug use.

“If we continue to engage these people we will do a lot to reduce these crimes that are being committed.”

NHS bosses say William Robson House is no longer fit for purpose and the Whinney Hill centre will allow them to provide a better service.

However, neighbours fear it will compound parking problems and increase crime.

Alan Hayton, from Whinney Hill Community Group (WHCG), told councillors: “A residential area of the city is not a suitable location for this type of centre.
“All the people who have supported this have a vested interest in it. They would say this is a brilliant idea wherever it is in the city.”

Elvet councillor David Freeman supported residents, saying: “I have no doubts about the benefits drug treatment centres provide but they should not be in residential areas – they should be in city centre areas, away from communities.”
He proposed rejecting the plans but was defeated by five votes to three.

Mark Harrison, joint commissioning manager for the public health drug and alcohol commissioning team, said sufficient parking had been agreed with Mr Allen and there was no evidence any of DACT’s eight centres across County Durham had increased crime.

“We are good neighbours. We work well with local communities.
“People want to get well. They want to give something back. That’s what we try to do.”

The plans were approved by five votes to three.

Afterwards, WHCG said it was extremely disappointed and officers and members had disregarded the effect on residents’ quality of life.

NHS bosses hope the centre will open next February or March.