Report from The Liverpool Echo dated 18 January 2017
A Widnes care home shut down over safety fears can now be transformed into a hostel for asylum seekers.
The 60-bed Lilycross Care Centre in Widnes was the subject of a planning application to turn the huge site into a 120-place asylum hostel.
Halton Borough Council gave the plans, submitted by government contractor Serco, the green light at a Development Control Committee meeting on 16 January 2017 despite opposition from some residents.
Plans outlined how asylum seekers would be housed for up to four weeks at the Wilmere Lane site and provided with regular shuttle buses into Liverpool where migrant help, health screenings and interviews will take place.
Applications will be screened by the Home Office and more permanent homes will be found if applications are successful.
Multiple protests from residents and more than 3,500 letters of objection were submitted to the council alongside 774 people who individually objected, including Halton MP Derek Twigg and local councillor Andrew McManus.
The council have advised those commenting on the application that plans cannot be either approved or refused on ‘any grounds’.
The spokeswoman said that there are legal restrictions on what can be considered when making a decision for a planning application, which are called ‘relevant and material planning considerations’.
The council spokeswoman said: “The council is already receiving correspondence commenting on the application that clearly falls outside what would be considered ‘relevant and material planning considerations’ and cannot be taken into account by the development control committee.”
Cllr McManus’s concerns included that an 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.
Mr Twigg said that ‘many constituents’ believed it was ‘questionable’ if Lilycross is an appropriate location for a hostel due to its distance from amenities.
He said: “We cannot have people packed into this building, that would be unacceptable and no way to treat human beings.”
Concerns raised by individuals also outlined fear of crime, an ‘inappropriate’ green belt location, potential adverse and detrimental effect on tourism and that it should be reopened as a nursing home.
Save Lillycross 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.”
A total of 11 representations were received by the council supporting the plans. A petition set up to approve the planning application attracted 320 names.
A spokesman for Halton Borough Council 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.”
Cheshire police, Cheshire Fire And Rescue Service, the Environment Agency, and neighbouring St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council were consulted on the plans.
The council’s planning document’s conclusion 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.”
The proposals from Lilycross Homes Ltd envisage the facility accommodating up to 120 asylum seekers.
The planning document said the centre would be funded by the Government with placements organised by Serco on behalf of the Home Office.
Single men will be kept separate from women, children, and families and secure entrances will be put on each of the facility’s three floors to accommodate this.
Jenni Halliday, Serco’s contract director for Compass, said: “We are looking at using this property as an initial accommodation centre for the asylum seekers in our care while their application for asylum is assessed by the Home Office.
There would be fully trained support and management staff on site to look after them.
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 that they are safe and secure and are treated with dignity and respect.”