A COUNCIL leader has been criticised for launching a petition against proposals to build emergency accommodation for asylum seekers near Andover. 

Councillor Phil North, leader of Test Valley Borough Council, set up the campaign after the Home Office outlined plans to use Ministry of Defence land in Barton Stacey to build a short-term facility for up to 500 people. 

Cllr David Coole said he is "shocked and dismayed" over Cllr North's petition, and said when he first heard about it, he thought it was fake. 

“Shouting ‘not in my back yard’ by the leader of Test Valley Borough Council and an MP is simply not acceptable,” Cllr Coole said.

“I am shocked and dismayed at the callousness of the petition to block refugees from being housed in Test Valley.

“At first I thought it was fake news because Test Valley Borough Council is all about caring for people and the community. There is clearly and undeniably an urgent need to house refugees and Test Valley Borough needs to take its share, just like every other Borough/District in the UK.

“If Cllr Phil North is suggesting this location and the proposed facilities are not suitable, then he must provide an alternative proposal. Perhaps Test Valley Borough Council could offer the empty Chantry Centre Office blocks to the government, which could convert them into suitable accommodation for the refugees. Perhaps some commercially owned properties can be offered.

“If security concerns are justified, Test Valley Borough Council and the Town Council could fund additional police officers and/or PCSOs,” Cllr Coole said.

He also encouraged people to get creative and find a way to help the refugees. “Let’s not just try and move them on, so they become another Borough’s problem.

The Home Office plans to build a portacabin style accommodation on a piece of land belonging to the Ministry of Defence near the A303 at Barton Stacey. It will be a temporary facility for refugees while their applications are processed.

Cllr Phil North set up a petition against the proposal, saying that “putting these individuals up in temporary buildings akin to an open prison is the wrong accommodation in the wrong location”.

He wrote: "An influx of 500 young men in a village with an existing population of just 1,000, would have an overwhelmingly detrimental impact. In other similar facilities, this has led to an increase in anti-social behaviour and criminality."

The petition on Change.org has garnered more than 1,700 signatures under 24 hours.

Meanwhile, a Home Office press officer confirmed to Andover Advertiser that the government is exploring Barton Stacey as a location for the temporary facility. As a crown site, Barton Stacey can be used to accommodate asylum seekers using emergency planning powers, he added.

“We are engaging with leaders and officials at Test Valley and Hampshire councils, local MPs, the police and health services, among others,” the press officer said.

“Any accommodation provided for asylum seekers at Barton Stacey will be of the necessary standard and compliant with Covid regulations – any suggestion otherwise is entirely incorrect.

“All asylum seekers’ basic needs will be met on-site, including three meals a day. Asylum seekers will not be detained, but would be required to sign in and out of the site. A shuttle bus would be provided where necessary (e.g. to attend medical appointments).

“We plan to fix our broken asylum system to make it firm and fair – compassionate to those fleeing oppression, persecution and tyranny, but tough on those who abuse our system.

“Given the pressure on the system during these unprecedented times, we have worked tirelessly with local authorities and other partners to provide asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, with suitable accommodation – as we are required to do by law.