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Inquiry into plans to convert former university halls into asylum seeker accommodation concludes

The public inquiry into controversial plans to turn former university halls of residence into accommodation for hundreds of asylum seekers has concluded – with a decision expected next month.

The Planning Inspectorate has been listening to Serco's appeal over Stafford Court, Beaconside

The fourth and final session was held online on Tuesday morning after Serco appealed against Stafford Borough Council’s refusal to permit the change of use of Stafford Court in Beaconside.

Before the public inquiry began, Stafford’s MP Theo Clarke lodged her “formal opposition in the strongest terms to the proposed site”. She met with the Home Office’s Asylum Engagement Team and has also voiced concerns to Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick in the last few months.

She said: “The borough council was right to refuse permission for asylum seeker accommodation at Beaconside last summer and the circumstances have not changed since then; it remains a wholly inappropriate place to house hundreds of asylum seekers. I oppose its use, as do many local residents, and I urge the Planning Inspectorate to refuse Serco’s appeal.”

Planning inspector Gareth Jones, who shares his name with a borough councillor, has visited the site at Weston Road. The first three days of the inquiry were held at Stafford Rugby Club, where Mr Jones heard the views of residents and interested parties as well as from legal representatives of Serco and Stafford Borough Council.

Tuesday’s online session heard legal discussions including potential conditions if the council’s decision is overturned. Mr Jones said: “It is standard practice to discuss potential conditions at inquiries.

“That doesn’t imply I have made up my mind on the case. I haven’t, it’s just something I’m required to do as part of the inquiry process.”

Serco has proposed 171 initial accommodation beds (IA), providing urgent short term places for asylum seekers needing somewhere to stay before their support applications can be assessed. A further 310 places would provide “dispersed accommodation” (DA) for a longer term while applicants wait for their asylum claim to be fully determined, which could range from months to years.

A statement of case put forward on behalf of Serco said: “The configuration of self-contained clusters at Stafford Court is ideal for accommodating asylum seekers during both the IA and DA phase of their application. The ability to secure each cluster, an individual floor or an entire block creates maximum flexibility to accommodate single males, single females or families with the appropriate level of segregation and security.”

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