DORSET is set to be home to the first berthed vessel in the UK to be used to house asylum seekers.
The Home Office says the vessel, at Portland, will ‘reduce the reliance on expensive hotels and deliver a more orderly, cost-effective and sustainable asylum accommodation system’.
However, critics of the plan say Portland Port is not a suitable location.
Dorset Council said it had ‘serious reservations’ about the scheme and opposed it.
It was continuing to ‘press’ the Home Office for answers about the scheme, it added.
The Home Office said the new plan was ‘an important step in progressing the Prime Minister and Home Secretary’s priority to stop the boats’.
The government has announced that surplus military sites will also be used to accommodate migrants who have entered the UK illegally.
The barge, called the Bibby Stockholm, will be berthed in Portland Port and will accommodate about 500 single adult males while their asylum claims are processed.
The Home Office said it will provide ‘basic and functional accommodation, and healthcare provision, catering facilities’, with security in place at all times.
Migrants are due to be moved onto the Bibby Stockholm in the coming months, with the Home Office in discussions with other ports.
It said it expects ‘further vessels will be announced in due course’.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said: “The Home Secretary and I have been clear that the use of expensive hotels to house those making unnecessary and dangerous journeys must stop.
“We will not elevate the interests of illegal migrants over the British people we are elected to serve.
“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money and to prevent the UK becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers in Europe.
“All accommodation will meet our legal obligations and we will work closely with the local community to address their concerns, including through financial support.”
Chief executive of Portland Port, Bill Reeves, said: “We are keen to play our part in the national effort to house some of the thousands of people needing accommodation.
“We encourage everyone in the community to approach this with an open mind and help us show other areas just how successful this type of initiative can be, both for the migrants and the local community.
“There will be close co-operation with local agencies, including the health and emergency services during the preparations for the vessel’s arrival and its operation. We will also work closely with local community and voluntary groups.”
Bibby Stockholm will be operational for at least 18 months and stay berthed in the port during that time.
A Dorset Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the Home Secretary’s announcement this afternoon, confirming that the Home Office wishes to proceed with its plans to house asylum seekers in floating accommodation at Portland Port.
“Dorset Council’s position has not changed. We still have serious reservations about the appropriateness of Portland Port in this scenario and we remain opposed to the proposals.
“However, the council will continue to support and acknowledge the concerns of our residents and local businesses.
“There are a number of questions which the Home Secretary’s announcement does not address, we will continue to press the Home Office for answers and await further information.”
Writing before the announcement, Portland MP Richard Drax (Con) said the scheme was ‘unworkable for many reasons’.
“We have no idea who they will be, or where they are from,” he said.
“The scheme is unworkable for many reasons and I’ve already told the Home Secretary that.”
After a meeting with port bosses and the council leader, Mr Drax said: “What was discussed is strictly confidential, but I learnt enough to chase the Home Secretary for more information, which to date I’ve only received from the press.”