A drug rehabilitation centre opens its doors next week in one of St Leonards’ most notorious drug-dealing areas – to the astonishment of neighbouring residents.
Up to 60 former addicts will be housed at Caple ne Ferne as part of a 16-to-22 week residential rehabilitation programme by Narconon Sussex, an organisation run on principles laid down by Church of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard.
Only last week parts of Central St Leonards were labelled “havens for criminals” and drug dealing in the area is among the worst in the town.
The 24 staff at the Albany Road centre will aim to eliminate drug dependency through a regime of eight-to-10 hour study programmes, coupled with exercise, guided nutrition and toxin-expunging sauna sessions.
The first 12 “students” on the programme will arrive within a week.
Residents, however, feel they were left in the dark about the plans for the building.
Albany Road resident Audrey Lyons, 75, first learned of the opening after receiving a letter from the organisation last Wednesday.
She said: “I was surprised when this came through my door as I thought it was going to be turned into luxury flats.
“This is a residential area with no real facilities. What are the people who go there going to do? There are no shops or anything.”
Pevensey Road resident Mary Jennings said: “It seems to have happened very quickly. We were told we’d be invited to an opening ceremony in a month or so, but if they’re already open there isn’t much point. No one is arguing against helping people with problems, but this seems to have largely happened via the back door.”
The company acquired the property on a five-year lease from owners Adelphi Midlands Estates Ltd after the company’s plans to house 71 asylum seekers at the former language school fell through in March last year.
A spokesperson for Hastings Borough Council confirmed the centre would not require planning permission as the building possessed existing permission for this category of use.
Hastings and Rye MP Michael Foster admitted to being “concerned” when plans for the centre were revealed. He said: “We do need drug rehabilitation centres but I would want to know a lot more about how it would be run. Rehabilitation centres would be better placed in areas where there was not a high level of temptation and regrettably in St Leonards we have a drug problem.
“I’m sympathetic to the view the public should be able to comment on the scheme. I would encourage local residents to express their views to the regional authority and I would be happy to pass the on the information.”
A spokesperson for Commission for Social Care Inspection – which inspects and regulates social services care throughout the country – said on Wednesday: “When the MP contacted us, it was the first we heard about it. We’re going to visit the premises tomorrow. We’re going to have a look to determine whether it needs to be registered.”
Narconon spokesperson E Kenneth Eckersley stressed the centre was for former drug addicts only, and would not admit current drug users. He said: “Everyone entering the premises has left drugs behind. If we found anyone at the centre with drugs they would be thrown out.
“We are trying to rehabilitate former users to help them learn valuable social skills which will keep them off drugs and help them become model citizens.”
He said Caple ne Ferne was already equipped with CCTV and staff would patrol the building, but stressed the residents posed no danger to the community. He said: “We are running a training centre here, not a halfway house. We would expect students to remain in the building for the first three to five weeks of the course, but this is less a measure to keep people in than to keep bad influences out.”
Any outside visits will be accompanied by staff for the first three to five weeks.
Mr Eckersley added: “Obviously Narconon receives support from individual Scientologists because of the link to L Ron Hubbard, but there is no link – financial or otherwise – to the church itself. We are not a Scientology group. We accept people of all religious and ethic groups and there is absolutely no element of this in the teaching programme.”