I wanted to update residents on the Home Office’s proposal to house up to 500 migrants in temporary buildings at Barton Stacey. As most of you will be aware, local MP, Caroline Nokes & I have been campaigning against this since it was first proposed – and it seems that our persistent correspondence with the Immigration Minister, Chris Philp is starting to pay off.

He has confirmed that the Home Office is now seeking specialist advice on the two matters of major concern that Caroline and I raised with him at the very beginning, namely highways and habitats regulations. At a multi-agency forum last week, Home Office officials stated that this would take between 10 and 12 weeks. They also confirmed a final decision wouldn’t be taken before that advice is received.

Considering that at our meeting of the 15th December, Minister Philp reiterated the Home Office’s ambition to move asylum seekers into the proposed site in February 2021 and stated that the Home Secretary would be making the final decision shortly, this is a welcome change in approach.

Caroline and I are seeking urgent clarification, though, about what impact this additional site assessment work has on the Home Office’s timescale. Even if they can iron out all the issues in 12-weeks, which I doubt, we’re now looking at May or June at the earliest before the site starts accommodating any migrants. I’m partially reassured that the Minister is still describing this proposal as ‘temporary’ and ‘contingency’ accommodation, which he previously stated was urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the updated timescales, though, it does seem to eradicate the original rationale for considering this site.

That’s especially true, considering the Home Office now seem to have enough capacity in the system to close a similar camp at Penally in Pembrokeshire. The issues at Penally have been well documented, including legal challenges, protests and hunger strikes. Last week, they started moving migrants from that ‘contingency’ site into ‘dispersed accommodation’.

It seems illogical then that they’re still considering other contingency accommodation in an even more inappropriate location if the current contingency accommodation isn’t needed. Surely it is better for the asylum seekers themselves and those that live close to these sites if the Home Office abandons its ‘migrant camps akin to an open prison’ policy completely.

Caroline and I continue to put pressure on the Home Office to drop its proposal for Barton Stacey.