Residents are outraged and are fighting plans to turn a care home into an asylum centre
An application was made to transform the former Lilycross Care Centre in Widnes, Cheshire, into a centre to house 120 refugees in August last year – and the plans were given the go-ahead by council planning bosses last Monday, January 16.
The 'Save Lilycross' residents' protest group is now seeking a judicial review into Halton Borough Council's planning committee's decision in a bid to spark a U-turn amid fears of rising crime rates and dwindling house prices once the centre is up and running.
Campaigners have also questioned the "morality" of using the centre to house asylum seekers while they claim up to 60 pensioners who would have been treated at the care home, which was closed down by the Care Quality Commission in 2015, are forced to 'bed-block' in nearby hospitals.
Derek Williams, from the Save Lilycross group, said: "There is quite a lot of anger that we will be getting 120 neighbours every three-to-four weeks.
"One of the main problems is that it is a really rural location so there will be buses transporting the people to assessment centres and mosques and they should be in a city centre location where they can integrate with society.
"There is also the risk that people coming into the community before they have been assessed could be bringing an element of criminality with them.
"A lot of residents have invested heavily in the area and are worried that the development will bring a negative impact on the local community while the council are not getting anything from it.
The 'Save Lilycross' residents' protest group is now seeking a judicial review
A lot of residents have invested heavily in the area and are worried that the development will bring a negative impact on the local community
"One man has remortgaged his house and has seen the price of his house fall by five per cent since the plans were announced."
More than 4,000 people had signed petitions and objected to the plans and more than 120 members of the 'Save Lilycross' residents pressure group turned up to the meeting and were left furious after council chiefs approved the plans.
Once the care home closed its doors, owner Abid Chudary successfully applied for it to be turned into an interim asylum seekers centre run on behalf of the Home Office by Serco.
The planning documents suggest 120 asylum seekers will be required to share just six bathrooms at the property while bus transport will be provided to asylum seekers who will be treated at the centre.
The Save Lilycross group are now crowdfunding to take the battle to judicial review and have raised more than £5,500 to help them pursue the challenge.
Mr Williams said: "We feel like the council had already made their decision when they announced the approval at the meeting.
"It seemed like the council had ignored many of the issues that had been flagged up.
"The real question is: is it morally right to house asylum seekers rather than looking after the elderly people who forced to block beds at hospital? It doesn't seem right to me – it seems morally wrong."
The former Lilycross Care Centre is located in Widnes, Cheshire
"We think that we have a strong case but it will hinge on what the solicitors say and whether we can get the funding together."
UKIP leader Paul Nuttall is among the politicians supporting the protesters' fight and the MEP for the North West of England claimed in a statement there is a clinician-led consortium ready and waiting in the wings to take over the premises.
Serco praised the council's decision and insist that the centre will not cause an "increase in crime" despite residents' fears.
Jenni Halliday, Serco's Contract Director for COMPASS, said: "We are very pleased that Halton Council has approved the planning application to use this building to house these vulnerable people who have come to the UK seeking asylum, having fled their own countries.
Campaigners have also questioned the 'morality' of using the centre to house asylum seekers
"We have a duty of care to look after them properly, which we take very seriously.
"We will use the Centre to house no more than 120 asylum seekers and this means that there will be up to two people sharing a room while they are there.
"There will be Serco staff at the Centre 24 hours a day to provide support, advice and safety and we will be recruiting the appropriate amount of people to fill these new positions.
"They will stay at the Centre for about three weeks and then move to other housing in the community while the Government reviews their application for asylum in this country.
UKIP leader Paul Nuttall is among the politicians supporting the protesters' fight
"Our extensive experience of caring for asylum seekers throughout the North West of England has proven that there is no increase in crime, despite some of the fears being expressed, and we work closely with the police and other local services to ensure the smooth running of the Centre."
A spokesperson for Halton Borough Council said: "The Development Control Committee considered the matter very carefully and, taking into account all the evidence and the relevant material planning issues, approved the application subject to conditions."
The Home Office said initial accommodation for asylum seekers coming to the UK is hostel-type housing for those who have nowhere to stay and no funds to pay for somewhere to live.
More than 4,000 people had signed petitions and objected to the plans
Asylum seekers usually stay in initial accommodation for less than three weeks before being moved to long-term accommodation with one of the more than 120 local authorities that currently participate in asylum dispersal.
A Home Office spokesman said: "Decisions on the use of accommodation, including which premises are used, are made by the individual contractors, who bear the cost.
"They are also responsible for securing the required legal permissions for the use of any sites with the local authorities responsible."