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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Huddersfield asylum housing plans ignites debates: Cost concerns and community impact at forefront

The Manchester Road site has a capacity for 677 people and is expected to be used until 2033

As the Home Office prepares to house hundreds of asylum seekers in Huddersfield, here’s everything we know about the plans so far.

The former student accommodation at Manchester Road has a maximum capacity of up to 677 people, with the first group of asylum seekers due to arrive in May. This will be made up of single adult men between the ages of 18 and 65. The Home Office will gradually increase the number of people who are being housed at the accommodation over time.

The recent publication on 20 March by the National Audit Office (NAO) provided additional insights into the Home Office’s intentions for Huddersfield. According to the report, the Home Office anticipates utilizing the site until 2033.

Huddersfield is one of four larger sites being used to house asylum seekers, the other three being the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, and former RAF bases at Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield in Essex. The use of the larger sites is forecast to cost the Home Office almost £1.2bn. This is £46m more than using hotels when taking into account the costs that have been committed to spending on sites, or spent setting them up.

A spokesperson for the Home Office previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the plans for Huddersfield come as part of the government’s bid to reduce its use of hotels as accommodation for those seeking asylum that cost £8m per day. However, projected figures from January 2024 show that the use of the new site is anticipated to cost more than originally thought.

Previously, the Home Office expected the Huddersfield site to cost £23m less than using hotels, but the most recent figures are showing that it will cost £2m more than the hotel equivalent. Between now and 2033, a total of £358.4m is expected to be spent on the accommodation in Huddersfield.

Though the exact plans for Huddersfield are yet to be shared, by designing the large sites as self-sufficient, ensuring things like food, transport and health services are provided on site, the Home Office believes that there will be “little impact” on local communities, the report states.

Over the past few months, Kirklees Council has raised “major concerns” over the plans, and previously criticised the Home Office’s approach to engagement as lacking. This view is echoed in the report by the Local Government Association which described initial local authority engagement as “poor”. According to the NAO, officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities agreed with this but said that relationships are improving.

Leader of Kirklees Council, Cllr Cathy Scott. Image: Kirklees council

Leader of Kirklees Council, Cllr Cathy Scott, said: “The NAO report is a damning indictment of the government’s handling of asylum across the country. Our local experience for Huddersfield paints a depressingly similar picture.

“Since the Home Office’s plans for Huddersfield were leaked last summer, the council and our partner organisations have raised dozens of concerns. These include the impact of the site on over-stretched public services, community safety, local businesses and residents.

“Far too many of these issues remain unresolved. This includes basic information about how the site will operate, when it will become operational and how the Home Office intends to safeguard any unaccompanied children who are sent to the site. That’s on top of potential issues around homelessness, health services for residents of the site and how they can guarantee the site will be safe not only for the people who live there but for residents who live, work and study nearby. The Home Office doesn’t even have planning permission for this kind of facility.

“The Home Office needs to learn urgent lessons from the NAO and commit to engaging properly with the Huddersfield community as well as addressing the many important issues the council and its partners have put forward before the site becomes operational.

“In Kirklees, we have a strong record of supporting people who are fleeing persecution. But the system relies on trust and confidence. We do not believe the Home Office has done enough to build trust over the past six months. That’s why we will continue to raise our concerns on behalf of local residents and communities.”

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