Public inquiry on Stafford asylum seeker accommodation plan enters final day
A public inquiry into controversial plans to house hundreds of asylum seekers in former university halls of residence in Stafford was due to enter its final day today.
Serco’s proposals for Stafford Court at Beaconside were refused permission by Stafford Borough Council’s planning committee last year after concerns were raised about social inclusivity, impact on public health services and fear of crime – despite being recommended for approval by planning officers.
Serco, which manages asylum seeker accommodation on behalf of the Home Office, appealed against the decision and a public inquiry began at Stafford Rugby Club last week.
A fourth day for legal discussions is due to go ahead today and people can watch online at staffordbc.gov.uk/public-inquiry
The council wrote to more than 1,000 people regarding the appeal with a number of residents given the opportunity to speak at the inquiry.
Planning Inspector Gareth Jones is likely to make a decision on the appeal next month.
Last week, Jonathan Easton KC, representing Serco, argued there was an urgent and pressing need to provide accommodation for people seeking asylum.
Barrister Hugh Richards, representing the borough council, said the authority feared that having such a concentration of asylum seekers living on the appeal site gives rise to a rational and legitimate fear of crime in the local community.
He also said the council wasn't satisfied that the health services needed by the asylum seekers will not "deplete the resources that the existing community needs and relies on".
Members of the public and councillors have also been invited to have their say on the plans during the hearing.
Carolyn Trowbridge, who called for the application to be rejected when she was a borough council and planning committee member, told the inquiry it wouldn’t feel safe housing nearly 500 people there, when some will have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Steven Spennewyn, a member of Hopton and Coton Parish Council, said the location was unsuitable and residents had not been consulted properly.
Other residents raised concerns about the site’s location near local schools.
And there were also fears that property prices could be affected by the proposals.
Serco has argued that police raised no objection to the appeal scheme and rejected the notion that there will be an increase in crime due to arrival of asylum seekers.
Documents relating to the inquiry are also available online at staffordbc.gov.uk/public-inquiry