High Peak Labour figure calls on Home Office to block Buxton asylum centre proposal

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As a key council decision date looms for a proposed asylum dispersal centre in Buxton, one of the candidates to be High Peak’s next MP has called on the Government to intervene and block any possibility of it going ahead.

At meeting on Tuesday, August 1, High Peak Borough Council’s development control committee is expected to decide the University of Derby’s application for a lawful development certificate with regard to High Peak Halls, on Bridge Street – a basic form of planning consent for changing a building’s use without major physical alterations.

As previously reported, the university is proposing to let the 274 rooms on a commercial basis. Though the application makes no mention of potential tenants being people waiting on asylum application outcomes, that is widely understood to be the intention.The council is unable to comment on the matter ahead of the meeting as it cannot be seen to pre-judge the application, but now another leading Labour figure has called for the Government to rule out the scheme from any Home Office considerations.

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Jon Pearce, the party’s chosen candidate for the next General Election, has now written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman asking that, if necessary, the Government takes the decision out of local hands which may ultimately be tied by technicalities in planning law.

High Peak Halls, on Bridge Street, could be used to accommodate asylum applicants in future. (Image: Google)High Peak Halls, on Bridge Street, could be used to accommodate asylum applicants in future. (Image: Google)
High Peak Halls, on Bridge Street, could be used to accommodate asylum applicants in future. (Image: Google)

Explaining his move to the Buxton Advertiser, Mr Pearce said: “This community is facing some very serious challenges with anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime. This would not be a safe, secure or suitable place to house more vulnerable people until these issues have been addressed and it is safe to do so.”He added: “I should make it clear at this point – as sadly there has been some misinformation propagated intentionally or otherwise – that my understanding is that these objections were based on concerns that it would not be a suitable place to accommodate more vulnerable people given the particular issues this area is facing rather than those individuals being the cause of the risk.

“Local public services are also already over-stretched due to Government cuts, particularly local NHS services with many residents struggling to get GP appointments and access an NHS dentist.

“There is no need for these proposals to go through local planning processes. The Home Secretary should listen, not to me, but to the local police, the local council and the local community and scrap these proposals without further delay.“Even if the application is rejected by the bi-partisan High Peak Borough Council planning committee – which I hope it will be – that decision can be appealed to and overturned by the Government anyway. That is exactly what has happened with former university halls in Stafford after the local borough council rejected plans to turn them into asylum dispersal accommodation.”

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When the Advertiser contacted the Home Office for a response to Mr Pearce’s letter, a spokesperson did not acknowledge receiving it and said they did not routinely comment on individual sites or proposals that may or may not be used for bridging or asylum accommodation.

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Jon Pearce, centre, Labour's next parliamentary candidate for High Peak. (Photo: Contributed)Jon Pearce, centre, Labour's next parliamentary candidate for High Peak. (Photo: Contributed)
Jon Pearce, centre, Labour's next parliamentary candidate for High Peak. (Photo: Contributed)

The spokesperson added: “We have always been upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country.

“We continue to work across government and with local authorities to identify a range of accommodation options. The government remains committed to engaging with local authorities and key stakeholders as part of this process.”

Mr Pearce’s opposition to the proposals puts him on the same side of this particular debate as High Peak’s incumbent Conservative MP Robert Largan, who has been vociferous on the matter since the university’s application was lodged with the council in May.

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Mr Largan said: “Over the last few months, I have been leading the campaign against the asylum centre, supporting Derbyshire Police in their opposition. I have made a number of representations to the University, the Labour Council and the Home Office. I have also carried out a survey of local residents, filled in by nearly 5,000 local people. Opposition to the proposals has been overwhelming with 88 per cent opposing the plans.

High Peak MP Robert Largan.High Peak MP Robert Largan.
High Peak MP Robert Largan.

“But I don’t just want to stop the asylum centre. I want to see High Peak Halls converted into badly needed affordable homes for local people. This option might not be as lucrative for the university and it will need the Labour council to step up. But it is the right way forward for Buxton.”

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Ahead of the meeting, the University of Derby would only reiterate its previous comments, with a spokesperson saying: “High Peak Halls in Buxton has been empty and available for use since 2019. The University is in the process of applying to the local authority for a certificate which would allow the space to be used by non-students, rather than stand empty.

“The University of Derby, like many in the local community, believes that we should support those in need whenever we can. We have decided to make this space available to provide short term accommodation for vulnerable people coming to the UK as refugees. We are fortunate to be in a position where we can provide some limited help to individuals who have fled their country.”

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