Councillors have voted against a motion aimed at attracting Hong Kong residents to Test Valley.

A motion was brought by Cllr David Coole that would have mandated Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) to write to the Home Office and Foreign Office to invite residents of the former British colony to the area.

The move follows national announcements that former residents of the colony with a British National (Overseas) Passport are being given a path to citizenship in the UK, following the imposition of national security legislation that critics say is eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Cllr Coole said that it was “a multicultural and economic opportunity for Test Valley”, while others described it as a “pointless motion”.

The motion was brought to a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, April 7, and asked that in response to the government’s announcements, that TVBC should write to the Home and Foreign Office to ‘both invite and welcome Hong Kong British National (Overseas) residents.’

Cllr Coole said: “The Home Office has estimated that tax receipts from new arrivals, many likely to work in well-paid sectors suggest a net benefit to government finances.

“I see this initiative as both a multicultural and economic opportunity for Test Valley where we welcome Hong Kongers into our communities and we all benefit from the economic opportunities.”

Cllr Philip Bundy, however, said that the motion was ‘unnecessary’.

He said: “Test Valley is and always has been a welcoming area for people of all backgrounds. It has a good track record of supporting initiatives like the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme in partnership with the county council and other agencies.”

He said the council had recently received a letter from the government from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government regarding Hong Kong residents.

“Test Valley will work with Hampshire County Council and colleagues across the county to play our part in the welcoming of migrants and refugees to the UK as may be appropriate.

“We know the ministry plans to set out further plans for residents from Hong Kong in further weeks. Therefore, it doesn’t seem necessary at this stage for Test Valley to undertake to write such a letter, and our track record already speaks for itself.”

Cllr Victoria Harber, said that while she supported the motion, she thought it was “pointless”.

She said: “I imagine anyone moving from Hong Kong to come to England might have reasons, for family or work, and the fact that we are open as the UK to coming here, as we should be, means I fail to see why we should write to the Secretary of State to say we’re open to this, as it’s a foregone conclusion.

“I fully support what Cllr Coole is saying, we should be open to Hong Kong migrants coming here but I don’t think it requires a letter”.

Cllr Christopher Ecclestone, however, said that his mind had been changed on the issue over “mixed messaging” on immigration in Test Valley.

He said: “When Cllr Coole first mentioned this to me I thought: ‘Why did we need to do that?’, but noting the sentiments over the past year, including a press release from December 7 2020 in which the council leader slammed a proposed asylum seeker site, it changed my mind to supporting this issue as it became clear to me we do need to make a clear statement that we support this type of arrival in our borough.”

Cllr Nick Matthews interrupted this, saying that the press release was instead about “providing the correct facilities” for migrants, not opposing legal immigration.

Cllr David Drew concurred, saying: “I think the asylum proposal shouldn’t be conflated with the warm and welcoming approach residents and this council have for people arriving from Hong Kong or anywhere.”

Cllr Rebecca Meyer then spoke, recalling immigration into her home state of Minnesota had helped transform a local hospital, and saw her grandfather be consulted by the King of Jordan for medical advice.

“What is the harm in writing?” she asked.

Cllr Coole then summed up the motion, saying that Hong Kong residents “are already arriving and already gravitating towards city centres.”

He said: “We can do nothing and see this talent gravitate towards cities and we can allow our shops and industries around Test Valley to languish empty as some of them are or we can write a letter and see if that achieves anything.”

The proposal was then put to a vote, with Cllrs Coole, Ecclestone and Meyer voting in favour, and all others against. Cllr Coole asked for his vote to be recorded in the minutes.