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Migrants housed in historic mill that was set to be luxury flats to 'meet local housing needs'

MIGRANTS are being housed in a historic mill in a "scenic sleepy village" that was set to be converted into luxury flats to meet local housing needs, it has emerged.

The owners of 150-year-old Stanley Mills applied to finish the transformation of the four-storey building into 42 apartments last June.

Councillors backed proposals for the landmark on the outskirts of Huddersfield in August after developers argued permission would help "bridge" a national and local housing shortage.

However, within weeks of this, the building was snapped up by a Home Office contractor to house up to 84 largely single male migrants, leading to a local outcry and suspicions it may have been flagged for such use at an earlier stage. Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last month pledged to deter more Channel crossings by seeking to house new migrants in former army barracks and even on barges in a bid to stem a £2.3 billion pound a year bill for hotel accommodation.

It comes in a month when:

*A security services source warned that The 19 terror suspects affiliated with groups such as ISIS and al-Shabaab had come to the UK via the Channel and claimed asylum

*Former high-ranking naval officer Dr Chris Parry said he fears Britain will be 'overwhelmed' by migrants crossing the Channel this summer after UK and French governments "failed to crack down on people smugglers."

*It emerged an increase in diphtheria cases in the UK and Europe was linked to small boat crossings.

*There were reports that a French warship ordered a passenger ferry to move to one side in order to take 90 migrants across the Channel to the UK.

News that the Home Office has taken residential property out of the housing market has angered some.

A woman living nearby, who asked not to be named, said: "There is a big shortage of housing locally and I know these were not council homes, but you would have thought they could have been offered to local people first.

"It makes you wonder if the Home Office was in talks with the developer about this before the plans got approved."

The site was occupied by furniture business Lindsay All Sorts for several years, but according to the planning application it shut down as a result of Brexit and coronavirus and no other employment tenants were interested.

Plans for some of the residential redevelopment were approved in 2021, but approval for the remaining floor went in last year.

A planning statement described it as a "scenic sleepy village location."

It said: "It will complete as a holistic luxury residential apartment block overlooking onto the woodland and the canal. We believe that this change of use proposal should be seen as being a sustainable redevelopment and should be supported positively as it also help to bridge the housing shortage gap for the national and local housing needs.

"The change of use to form residential apartments will assist to promote a strong, vibrant and healthy local community as promoted by the social role and will certainly be more acceptable."

Councillors said Home Office asylum accommodation contractor MEARS struck a deal with the owner with no consultation with the council, which was unable to object.

Labour Councillor Graham Turner was one of three local members who wrote to the Home Office saying it was too out of the way with no access to transport and shops.

not good location no shops transport out the way not ideal location

He believes the migrants were moved in before the developer finished its full transformation of the site.

He said: "How the Home Office operated left little to be desired and the people arrived under the cover of darkness, which doesn't look good. The council has no say as the Home Office just says it has identified a site and when they are moving in."

However, he said now the migrants are living there, they should be accepted by the community.

He added: "They have integrated well and are going to community groups with some learning English. There have been no problems with crime."

A Home Office spokeswoman suggested the use of the former mill was to reduce costs for taxpayers.

She said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.

“We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable - there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day.

“The Home Office is committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and limit the burden on the taxpayer.

"We engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation and work to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people."

A Kirklees Council Spokeswoman added: “Decisions about the housing of asylum seekers is not something the council is responsible for, this is managed directly between the Home Office, Mears, and landlords.

"We are also not responsible for letting arrangements for private housing. We work with a range of agencies to support asylum seekers who move into our area, with the aim of making sure they feel welcome whilst minimising impacts on the local communities.”

Iqbal Sekhon, 49, of the Sekhon Group, which developed the site, said the flats would have gone to professionals, not more needy locals, had they gone on the open market.

He said the migrants had been fabulous tenants with great respect for the property and no local issues with concerns down to scaremongering.

Previously, in some cases, local authority tenants had smashed up other properties and stolen fixtures and fittings.

He said: "Our planning permission was for housing. It's been used for housing and living accommodation. We do not discriminate because of class, cred or status. Once upon a time my parents were economic migrants. At the beginning we were concerned, but our concerns have never materialised."

He said the Sekhon Group has converted 1,200 disused buildings with £1.2million a year raised from them in council tax.


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