Serco, the Government’s asylum accommodation provider, called a meeting on 14th July with us, the police, local healthcare services and Derbyshire County Council to tell us about their plans to convert High Peak Halls in Buxton into asylum dispersal accommodation.
This was the first time any local stakeholders had been officially informed about the Government’s plans. This is hugely disappointing as they have been in negotiations with the University of Derby for months.
This was a very bruising meeting for Serco as the police, healthcare services, and both councils were all united in our opposition to their plans.
This should not have come as a surprise to Serco or the Government. In March, the Government asked us to identify areas where it would not be appropriate to accommodate asylum seekers in High Peak. Working with Derbyshire Police, we identified SK17 6 (the postcode of High Peak Halls) as one of those areas. The local community there is facing very serious problems with anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime. It would not be a safe, secure or suitable place to accommodate more vulnerable people until those issues have been addressed.
Unfortunately, we do not ultimately get to decide whether Serco runs an asylum dispersal centre in High Peak Halls. That is a matter for the Government. In fact, the Conservatives, including Government Whip Robert Largan, recently voted against a law that would have required the Government to give local councils a say in where asylum accommodation is situated in their area.
The only role councillors will have in this process is that the cross-party planning committee will have to consider a planning application from the University of Derby seeking confirmation that they can use the halls to accommodate non-students. That application does not even mention the intention to use it as an asylum centre.
Whatever the outcome of that application, it will be up to the Government to decide whether they pursue their plans to convert High Peak Halls into an asylum dispersal centre.
We urge the Government to listen to local police, local healthcare services and both local councils and scrap their plans without further delay.