Plans to house asylum seekers in Derbyshire university accommodation withdrawn

MP Robert Largan has told the University of Derby to "go back to the drawing board" with their proposalsMP Robert Largan has told the University of Derby to "go back to the drawing board" with their proposals
MP Robert Largan has told the University of Derby to "go back to the drawing board" with their proposals
Plans to house asylum seekers at disused university accommodation in Buxton have been abandoned less than two hours before a decision was due to be returned.

The University of Derby had submitted proposals to High Peak Borough Council that would have seen their High Peak Halls accommodation turned into an asylum dispersal centre.

But the contentious plans - which prompted over 1,400 planning application responses - were withdrawn at the last minute ahead of a council meeting on Monday, August 7.

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Robert Largan, Conservative MP for High Peak, said he hoped the university would ‘go back to the drawing board’ and listen to the mood within the community.

High Peak Halls in BuxtonHigh Peak Halls in Buxton
High Peak Halls in Buxton

Speaking to this paper, he said: “(It’s) quite extraordinary, really, to withdraw an application less than two hours before it was due to be decided. In some ways it isn’t surprising because it was very obvious that it was going to be refused.”

“It was never the right thing to do - the location is wholly unsuitable - and I hope now that the university will take stock, go back to the drawing board, and engage in finding a more positive solution. It might cost them a little bit more money, it will certainly involve the council stepping up, and don’t simply try to submit another application down the line when they think people aren’t looking.”

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The university had, in their application to the council in May, proposed to let the 274 rooms on a commercial basis. Though the application makes no mention of potential tenants being people waiting on asylum application outcomes, that is widely understood to have been the intention.

The proposed change of use had prompted vociferous opposition from within the community and Jon Pearce, Labour Party candidate for High Peak, was on the same side as Mr Largan on this particular issue.

Speaking before the application had been withdrawn, Mr Pearce said: “This community is facing some very serious challenges with anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime. This would not be a safe, secure or suitable place to house more vulnerable people until these issues have been addressed and it is safe to do so.”

The University of Derby’s High Peak Halls have been empty since 2019 with the university making the decision to axe all degrees housed at the Buxton campus.

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High Peak Borough Council had anticipated a large turn-out at the Buxton Methodist Church with a PA system rigged up so that those who couldn’t fit inside the church would be able to listen along to proceedings.

In any event word got round shortly after 11.40am that the proposals had been withdrawn and the council would no longer be expected to rule on the application.

When asked how and where asylum seekers already in the country should be housed, Mr Largan told this paper: “The policy is to move away from housing (asylum seekers) in hotels and the Government has been looking for large scale solutions - such as disused army bases - in appropriate areas. There are huge issues with county lines near to where this was proposed and so it was never a suitable location.”

University of Derby has been approached for comment.