First of new ‘super asylum hostels’ approved despite opposition
The huge former Lilycross Care Centre, on the outskirts of Widnes, in Cheshire, can now be transformed into an asylum centre for up to 120 refugees at any one time, despite being in the green belt and 600 metres from a new estate of £500,000 homes.
It is believed to be the first of a new wave of super asylum screening centres planned across the country, to meet rising immigration levels, by government contractor Serco that has been approved.
Residents in Widnes were horrified to learn in August that Lilycross Homes Ltd, which owns the former care home, had applied to turn it into an "asylum hotel", for refugees who will stay for around four weeks each, while their applications are screened by the Home Office and they are found more permanent homes.
There have been several protests outside the building and a vocal UKIP-backed campaign on Facebook and other social media.
The plans were approved by councillors on Halton Council last night in the face of public opposition, as around 80 people demonstrated outside.
Save Lilycross campaign spokeswoman Karen Forde said: “The rural community of 50 residents will drastically change with the arrival of asylum seekers from mixed countries of origin, which will make them the majority population. Our community will be overwhelmed and we will be outnumbered.”
GETTY*FACEBOOK Villagers protest outside the Lilycross Care Home in Widnes over plans for an asylum centre there.
Residents have already vowed to try to overturn the decision through a judicial review.
Campaigner Derek Williams said: “This has been an absolute travesty of justice.
“They have completely disregarded the local consensus."
Mike Dale, who is part of the Facebook group, said he was concerned not enough was known about the potential residents at the point they will be housed there.
He told Express.co.uk: "My main concern is that nobody knows what the background is to these asylum seekers and whether they have a criminal record.
"We could potentially have asylum seekers involved in drug or people trafficking, assault, murder, child abuse, terrorism or organised crime.
He added: "It is described as an insecure 'open door hostel' for 120 un-assessed mainly male asylum seekers.
"The 120 people will be crammed in for economic reasons into a facility designed to accommodate only 60 elderly mainly bed bound patients.
FACEBOOK Campaigners sent out thousands of leaflets urging residents to oppose the plans at Lilycross.
"The facility will be staffed by only three people to cover the 24 hour period and with no restriction to keep them indoors."
Two petitions containing 2,706 and 897 signatures in online and paper versions respectively opposed the plans, and were handed to councillors who last night approved the scheme.
A further 774 people individually objected as did Halton MP Derek Twigg and some local councillors.
Just 11 representations were received by the council supporting the plans.
But staunch opposition did not stop Halton Borough Council from voting the plans through.
A council spokesman said: "The Development Control Committee considered the matter very carefully and, taking into account all the evidence and the relevant material planning issues, approved the application subject to conditions."
REDROWHOMES The asylum centre will be developed a stone's throw from this new estate of £500,000 homes.
Inside the facility, separate buildings will hold refugee families, single males and single females, and include offices, communal areas, restaurants, recreational facilities and children's play areas.
The migrants, mainly from war-ravaged Syria, will be housed over three separate floors.
It is believed the bulk of new occupants will be male, and public concerns raised in a council report included a “fear of sexually motivated attacks on women and children”.
Serco, one of three firms hired by the Government, also including Clearsprings and G4S, which have multi-million pound contracts to house growing numbers of asylum seekers, applied for permission to transform the empty care home last year, sparking a major local campaign against the proposals.
And a planning statement made to Halton Borough Council said Serco was rolling out the facilities across the country.
It said: “A national renowned company (Serco) experienced in managing such facilities will operate the centre.
"It currently runs similar facilities in the UK, and it is the intention to replicate the model, which has been successful elsewhere in the country."
Councillor Andrew McManus’s said the asylum hostel could create “negative perceptions” in the minds of potential visitors to the area and that businesses would suffer loss and employment may be affected.
Residents said Lilycross was not an appropriate location for a hostel due to its distance from amenities, and the property would devalue homes on the new estate built by Redrow Homes.
Other concerns raised by residents included fear of crime rising, potential adverse and detrimental effect on tourism, and that it should be reopened as a nursing home.
GOOGLE The former Lilycross care home which can now be transformed into the asylum centre.
UKIP Halton chairman Philip Busow said: “UKIP Halton are supporting the residents close to Lilycross and surrounding area. I have also informed our new leader of UKIP, Paul Nuttall, who is appalled at the council’s attitude to this very serious issue and fully supports the residents.”
A council recommendation ahead of the vote said: “The evidence provided in this particular case does not provide sufficient grounds to refuse the application based on the fear of crime, anti-social behaviour or public safety perceived by residents.
“The bringing back into use of a vacant building is more likely to have a positive impact on the economy by way of providing jobs and spending in the local area.”
Jenni Halliday, Serco’s contract director for Compass, added: “We fully understand both the challenges that local communities face and how vulnerable these people can be and we routinely consult with the relevant Local Authorities and the Home Office about the accommodation needs and to see how people can best be looked after.
"Our priority is at all times to make sure they are safe and secure and are treated with dignity and respect.”
In a statement, the firm previously said: "Given international events, there are currently more people than ever looking to the UK for asylum, having fled from the many conflicts and problems around the world.
“As a result there is a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers being put in our care in the North West and we are working hard to find suitable accommodation for them."
The former Lilycross Care Home closed last August after it was slammed as "inadequate" across all areas by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The home later had its registration with the health watchdog scrubbed after a CQC report said it did not adequately safeguard people from harm and that dementia patients suffered unexplained bruises.
GETTY Many of the new occupants of the Lilycross asylum centre in Widnes will come from war-torn Syria.
Chief inspector Richard Rees, of Widnes local policing unit, supported the proposal in a statement to the council.
He wrote: “There is no doubt that diverse communities bring many benefits to society, but they also represent new challenges to police forces.
“They can also place additional demands of policing.
“However… we do not anticipate or force any significant change in demand rom the change in use of the building.”
He said any crimes caused by new occupants of the hostel would be dealt with, any any hostility to the asylum seekers would be dealt with as a hate crime.