Proposals for an immigration camp at Barton Stacey hang in the balance after the Home Office pushed back a decision on the camp for up to three months.

The plans, which would see 500 single men housed on MoD land while their asylum claims are processed, will now be decided in April, despite the previously announced intention to open the camp in February.

Councillor Phil North, leader of Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC), said that it was “a welcome change in approach” by the Home Office, adding that he and MP Caroline Nokes would “continue to put pressure on the Home Office to drop its proposal for Barton Stacey.”

Proposals to construct an immigration camp at Barton Stacey were first submitted back in December, with a facility planned for the site of a former army camp near to the A303.

Caroline Nokes and Cllr North organised a petition against the plans, calling the site ‘inappropriate’. To date, just under 3,450 have added their signature.

This move was criticised by Andover town councillor David Coole, whose motion to reject the petition will be put to the town council on Tuesday, January 26.

Villagers themselves raised concerns about about the plans, which they said would “totally change the dynamic of the village”.

As part of their ongoing campaign, Nokes wrote to the Highways England following the news that a man, Jason Paul Lucas, had been killed on the A303 after being struck by what police believe was a large goods vehicle.

In its response, Highways England indicated that it had yet to be approached about the scheme but said that it was aware of the Home Office’s proposal.

Cllr North said that the immigration minister, Chris Philip, had confirmed that the Home Office would now be “seeking specialist advice” regarding concerns over the nearby A303, as well as habitats directives, such as those on nitrogen neutrality, which apply to Test Valley.

Cllr North said: “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.”

However, he added that he and Nokes were seeking “urgent clarification” over the new timeline for the camp, with a decision to be made at the earliest in late March, before a predicted opening of May or June.

He noted comparisons to a similar site in Penally, Pembrokeshire, where 250 men were housed in a former army camp. Residents and refugees protested the facility, which is now seeing the asylum seekers dispersed into accommodation elsewhere.

Cllr North continued: “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.”

When previously contacted by the Advertiser, the Home Office said: “We are required by law to provide asylum seekers with suitable accommodation and during the pandemic we have had to secure additional sites.

“We will work with the community to ensure any impacts are addressed.

“We are fixing our asylum system to make it firm and fair – and will be bringing forward legislation to stop abuse of the system while ensuring it is compassionate towards those who need our help.”