In an often disappointing debate on Hassockfield at Durham County Council’s meeting on July 14th 2021, the one good thing to emerge was the agreement “that Durham County Council does not believe that the use of Hassockfield as an Immigration Removal Centre is an acceptable use of this site.”
Beyond that highlight, too often the debate was dominated by discussion of housing issues and narrow political disagreements rather than the central issues for NoToHassockfield around:
- The absence of evidence of need for an extension of the “detention estate”
- The Human Rights issues involved in the use of detention generally
- The particular issues that make the Hassockfield site itself unsuitable
Honourable exceptions were councillors Angela Surtees and Maura McKeon who did speak about the damaging effects of detention on vulnerable women.
It remains a small victory, however, that we can properly claim that Durham County Council is opposed to the plan for Hassockfield.
What’s needed now is for the council’s opposition to be turned into action.
The full text of the motion (as amended) reads:
Durham County Council Planning Dept approved under Officer delegated powers a planning application to demolish the former Hassockfield Secure Training Centre to build 127 new dwellings, including 25 proposed for social housing, and with over £900,000 allocated for Section 106 funding. This development was on the existing footprint of Hassockfield and an adjoining green field and in our view was considered as a predominantly unsustainable rural location.
However, in January 2021 the Ministry of Justice revealed plans to develop the site into a Category 3 style immigration removal centre (IRC) for a maximum of 84 female detainees. As the Northern Echo reported, the MOJ did not pursue a Certificate of Lawfulness, however there was no obligation for the MOJ to do so as there was no change of use from the previous Hassockfield Secure Training Centre/Medomsley Detention Centre and given that the location is considered as Crown Land, DCC had no jurisdiction at all to affect the intentions of this Govt dept.
It is acknowledged that most detainees in this type of facility are not criminals and that 86% of women detained in 2018 secured their freedom and now contribute positively to our society
This Council resolves:
- To write to the to the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, to confirm that Durham County Council does not believe that the use of Hassockfield as an Immigration Removal Centre is an acceptable use of this site and requests that a new planning application be submitted so that a smaller housing development be built on the existing footprint of Hassockfield, providing a development predominantly for elderly residents but also including some aspect of social housing as per the requirements of the County Durham Plan.
- In the event that we are unable to prevent the opening of the Immigration Removal Centre, local members to maintain the engagement with the Director of Immigration, Removal and Escorting Services to ensure security on site, the welfare of detainees, and the potential cost impact on local police, fire service, health and other services budgets which may be used by the IRC are closely monitored and controlled.