Hundreds of asylum seekers are set to move into a luxury block of flats in a posh riverside town under controversial plans by the Home Office.
As many as 300 could be homed in exclusive Syward Place in Chertsey, Surrey, where a one-bedroom flat costs almost £300,000.
The quiet town, on the River Thames and nestled formerly in London’s Stockbroker Belt, has a population of just 15000 and residents fear the arrival of so many immigrants in one place will fuel tension and prove a drain on already creaking local services.
It means that the development, a former office block in Chertsey town centre and next to the railway station, would be where asylum seekers are housed – at cost to the UK taxpayer – while they await their claims to be processed, which in some cases can take years.
Musician Jenny Brown, 55, who lives close to the block, believes it’s unfair and told MailOnline: ‘When you have so many youngsters struggling to get on the housing ladder, is it right to give people who have only just arrived in this country such an exclusive property?
‘This development is way out of the price bracket for most people aged in their twenties, many of whom are having difficulties actually getting a mortgage.
‘Then you have people who have contributed towards society all their life falling on hard times and they often become overlooked and given absolutely no support.
‘It seems that the benefits system is heavily skewered towards those who haven’t contributed at all and I think this development and its potential use as accommodation for asylum seekers is a symbol of that
‘The flats are mainly one bedroom and so I think will probably end up in the main being given to single men.
‘I think that throws up additional concerns on whether they would integrate with the local population or remain very separate.
‘People complain that there’s already a strain on local resources, that it’s difficult getting a doctor’s appointment, that schools are over-subscribed and this is only going to make matters much worse.’
A one-bedroom home in Syward Place currently costs £290,000 while a two-room flat on the second floor would set prospective owners a hefty £450,000. In total there are 127 flats.
The plans have caused serious concern among the local MP and council leader.
Ben Spencer, Conservative MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, said: ‘Asylum seekers need quality accommodation and support, and this includes integration into communities.
‘This proposal is not that, and I will fight against any proposal which is unfair to our local community or the asylum seekers that need to be housed.’
Tom Gracey, leader of Runnymede Borough Council, said: ‘Plans to place 300 people in one location will place an unmanageable burden on local services and our ability to provide the support these families may need.
‘The site suggested was also intended to provide affordable housing for local residents. It cannot be that plans to support asylum seekers mean local residents miss out.’
He said: ‘A friend of mine recently split with his partner and as the property they rented was in her name he had to leave and is trying to get on the list for a council house.
‘But he’s had to jump through a lot of hoops, he’s having to pull together 12-months of bank statements and proof that he’s always lived in the town.
‘The likelihood is that it’s going to take him months – perhaps many months – to get himself sorted with a home and so in the meantime he’s going to have to find a hostel short-term.
‘That hostel will be like nothing like the flats the Government wants to house the asylum seekers in. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair.’
Steve Pearman, 40, agreed and said: ‘I know that asylum seekers have to be homed somewhere and they have to have somewhere comfortable but how many military veterans do we have who are homeless? How many young people can afford to live in a block like this?
The plans have also proven to be a hot topic of conversation on local Facebook groups, with other residents sharing similar stories.
Tina Furness wrote: ‘Runnymede Council will not rehouse my brother who is being kicked out of his home after my mother passed away in April and he has lived there for 27-years.
‘He is disabled and has learning difficulties. But at the bottom of his road – where he is being evicted – they want to house immigrants in lovely new flats.’
Sue Smith wrote: ‘My son, a single dad, was told by Runnymede Council they could not help house him as he earns too much money – but out of that money he pays taxes which help support projects like this to house immigrants.
‘So the council will house them but not him. This country has completely gone down the pan. It’s disgraceful that he should be forced into private renting and not the council register when he would pay his rent and not claim any benefits. It’s a joke.’
A spokesperson said: ‘We continue work to move to a more orderly, cost effective and sustainable system for accommodating asylum seekers using alternative sites.
‘We understand there are strong concerns from local communities and we are committed to closely engaging with local stakeholders to ensure these are addressed.’
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