The populist movement against asylum seekers scored another victory this week, as the Home Office abandoned plans to build induction centres in Sittingbourne and Saltdean.
Sittingbourne, Kent, has been the scene of a strong local campaign opposed to government plans to convert the Coniston Hotel into an induction centre for 111 asylum seekers. The protests, which were supported by local Labour MP Derek Wyatt, had been laced with xenophobia and hostility to immigrants. They were also fuelled by anger at the Home Office’s lack of consultation on the issue. A similar campaign had been mounted in Saltdean, near Brighton, where the Grand Ocean Hotel was being converted into emergency accommodation for 60 asylum seekers.
Home Office minister Beverley Hughes announced this week that she has decided not to go ahead with either proposal.
The decision came just a week after the British National Party registered four council election candidates in the Medway area of Kent (near Sittingbourne) and a candidate in the Rottingdean ward of Brighton and Hove City Council (which includes Saltdean). With elections due to be held on 1 May, the government’s decision to scrap proposals for asylum seeker accommodation at these two sites will reduce the BNP’s chances of profiting from local anti-immigrant feeling.
At the same time, though, the decision will encourage other local anti-immigrant campaigns who are hoping to mobilise against asylum seeker accommodation plans. The campaigns in Sittingbourne and Saltdean were themselves modelled on last year’s successful campaign against plans for an accommodation centre at Throckmorton, Worcestershire.
The Home Office says it will press ahead with its plans for a national network of induction centres. But, all plans for asylum seeker accommodation outside major cities are meeting opposition. A petition of 32,000 signatures was handed in to Downing Street today by campaigners fighting plans to convert a former naval airbase at Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire, into housing for 400 asylum seekers. A march earlier this year was attended by an estimated 8,000 people.
Plans to accommodate asylum seekers at Bicester, Oxfordshire, and at Newton, a former RAF base near Bingham, Nottinghamshire, are currently being heard at public inquiries. Rushcliffe Borough Council is challenging plans for the Newton site and has set aside £250,000 to fight the proposals, including possibly an appeal to the House of Lords.