A HEREFORD hotel could soon be home to 120 asylum seekers under Government plans.

The news that the Three Counties Hotel has been identified as a suitable site was broken at the weekend.

Here is what we know so far:

What has the Home Office said?

A Home Office letter obtained by community website Hereford Voice and shared with the Hereford Times revealed that the department has identified the Three Counties Hotel in Hereford's Belmont Road as a site to be used to house asylum seekers.

The letter, sent to Herefordshire Council by Ann Smith, deputy director of resettlement, asylum support, and integration at the Home Office, says a record number of asylum seekers are currently being supported in Britain due to the "unprecedented number of individuals crossing the Channel in small boats and claiming asylum".

How many people are we talking about?

The letter seeks to confirm that the Three Counties Hotel has a maximum capacity of 120.

This would suggest that up to 120 asylum seekers could be housed in the hotel, which has 60 rooms.

Why Hereford?

It is not immediately clear why Hereford has been chosen as a suitable place to house asylum seekers.

Home Office documents said the decision to accommodate a number of persons seeking asylum was made by the department's asylum accommodation providers "in response to the significant impact on the national asylum system under emergency Government measures".

The letter states that this is happening across the country.


Was Herefordshire Council warned?

The letter obtained by Hereford Voice appears to have been the first communication with the council from the Home Office.

The Home Office says that "consultation and engagement with local authorities and MPs around the use of sites in the relevant areas is paramount to the work we are doing and we will always aim to provide as much notice as possible of out intention to use sites".

Officials write to the local authority chief executive and local MP to inform them of their plans, Home Office documents revealed.

The Home Office said this is normally done in advance, but may take place retrospectively.

What does Herefordshire Council know?

Herefordshire Council has confirmed that the Home Office has been in contact, but said on February 20 that the plans are a "Home Office matter".

“We can confirm that the council has received a letter from the Home Office regarding the use of Three Counties Hotel as a site to accommodate a number of people seeking asylum," a Herefordshire Council spokesperson said.

"We will be meeting with Government officials and local multi-agency partners in the coming days, but until then this is a Home Office matter and we do not have any further information.”

What has my MP said?

Both Herefordshire MPs have spoken out on the matter.

Jesse Norman, whose Hereford and South Herefordshire constituency covers the area, said he had requested an urgent meeting with the Immigration Minister so that all the facts can be established.

“There is a national need to address this important issue, and Herefordians will naturally want to play their part," he said.

"But there are also real concerns about the extra pressure which this could create on local services which are already stretched.

"Herefordshire Council is currently under review by an independent Commissioner in relation to Children's Services; the hospital remains under huge pressure in A & E; access to GP and dental care is limited at present.

"It is essential that these fragile but crucial public services should not be further burdened."

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Sir Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire, has called on the Goverment to remove the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office from his post.

The Government has promised to pass new laws to swiftly detain and remove illegal migrants, Sir Bill said.

However a Bill has still not been brought before the Commons.

Sir Bill Wiggin said: “The recent incident in Knowsley shows that the criminal gangs and people traffickers who are exploiting illegal immigrants are exposing these people to the kind of horrible violence that we have seen.

“Filling hotels in England with illegal migrants is encouraging extreme right-wing groups and putting police officers at risk.

“I will not accept it in Herefordshire.

“In addition to meetings that I have had today I have also recently met with the Prime Minister and so I know that stopping the boats is his number one priority, as it is mine.

“So I wonder why this Bill is being held up.

“I will support the Government and this Bill wholeheartedly but in the meantime genuine asylum seekers are being let down.”