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‘Back door’ refugee centres anger residents

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The Times (London)

January 20, 2003, Monday

MINISTERS brushed off furious criticism and threats of legal action yesterday to insist that they are going ahead with plans to hire hotels, hostels and large country homes for asylum-seekers. The buildings will be turned into induction centres where immigrants will spend their first two weeks in Britain after claiming asylum. A deal for the first, the Coniston three-star hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent, has angered town residents because there had been no consultation. And there were protests yesterday in Caythorpe, Lincolnshire, when it was revealed that a property has been bought there for an induction centre. Ministers were accused of using a loophole in building laws to sidestep local opposition. By using properties that already have permission for use as accommodation centres, the Government avoids the need to seek permission for a change of use or for constructing a new building. Residents of Sittingbourne said yesterday that they intend to seek to take the Government to court to stop it using the Coniston for immigrants. The hotel, a detached Victorian mansion, has been taken over by Accommodata. The company has signed a contract with the Government to use it as a home for asylum-seekers. Villagers in Caythorpe invaded the site where Caythorpe Court stands. The Grade II listed building intended as an induction centre for 300 refugees was originally a hunting lodge and has more recently been used as an agricultural college. Terry Norman, 72, who is leading a protest group, said: “What’s going on has transformed our lives. People come here for a quiet life. We fear that will now be lost because there’s nothing for the asylum-seekers to do here.” The property developers, Angel Group, has told the local MP, Douglas Hogg, that its long-term intention is to create a residential estate for owner-occupiers. But in the short term it wants to house asylum-seekers. Accommodata and the Angel Group were both described by the Home Office as “accommodation specialists” who have already been used by the Government to provide homes for refugees. One of the properties on the books of Accommodata is the International Hotel in Leicester which has been the focus of frequent complaints. Asylum-seekers have also protested about the standards they endure there. Accommodata has also been involved in housing immigrants in Manchester, Bolton and Derby. The Angel Group, based in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, reported an annual turnover of Pounds 15 million in the latest published accounts. It is a holding company with four subsidiaries involved in property development and refurbishment, and providing homes and other services to vulnerable groups. In December a Commons debate was prompted by the company’s plans to house 200 refugees opposite Wakefield maximum security prison in a former college. Planning permission was refused but the company won an appeal for a dispersal centre scheme. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said that induction centres formed an essential part of the Government’s battle to process the many asylum-seekers coming to Britain. He accepted that the centres are likely to prove unpopular, at least in the initial phases, but said the Government had a responsibility to respond to national needs. His colleague Beverley Hughes, the Home Office Minister, said the plans for induction centres had been announced in October 2001. “One of the main aims of induction centres is to make sure people can be dispersed away from the South East as quickly as possible,” she said. A Home Office official dismissed suggestions that asylum-seekers will find themselves living in luxury and rejected as “nonsense” suggestions that planning laws had been circumvented. Simon Hughes, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, backed the plans: “The priority must be to process claims fairly and quickly and to look after people decently while this is being done.”

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Written by Concerned

January 20, 2003 at 11:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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