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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The new accomodation centres to be trialled to house asylum-seekers would not be 'too isolated', home office minister Lord Filkin told peers - and he promised to ensure they were accessible to all service-providers, including specialist lawyers.

Conservative Baroness Buscombe asked what criteria the government used to decide where they should be sited. She said if normal planning procedures were followed it was unlikely that any permission would be granted. She asked what consultation was being undertaken with the relevant local authorities and, most importantly, with local people.

Lord Filkin said among the factors used to determine location of the centres were availability of land, site capacity to cater for several hundred residents in either new build or converted accomodation, and the government's policy to relieve the pressure on London and Kent.

He explained that because the Crown was the proposer of the planning application, it was not able to submit under the normal planning process. However, it followed a similar procedure with the local authorities having eight weeks in which to make its determination.

'In all cases we are holding discussions with the relevant local authoritiesto try to ensure that we have full, proper consultation with local residents and other local interests in respect of the applications', he added.

Liberal Democrat Lord Dholakia asked whether large numbers in such isolated communities was compatible with the government's aim of integration and inclusion. In addition, at least 30% of people who appealed against the initial decisions were granted permission to remain in the UK.

'Is it not better, therefore, for people to be part of the mainstream education, healthcare and service provision - as happens in other European countries - rather than isolating them in remote areas', he added.

Former Labour minister Lord Dubs said isolated centres made it difficult for refugee organisations - for example, the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service - to provide advice and support to newly-arrived asylum-seekers.

Lord Filkin replied: 'The centres will not be too isolated. They will be positioned in rural areas. That is not the same as saying that they will be in the remote extremes of the United Kingdom...

'The government believe it is important that proper advice, including legal advice, is available to people in accomodation centres so that they understand the process and the timetables. We shall certainly look at the point to ensure that access is available for all relevant services'.

Hansard 17 June: Column 486-489


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