Hundreds march through East Sussex town in protest at Home Office plans to build centre for asylum seekers - pictures and video

Around 200 people took part in a demonstration today (Saturday, May 20) to protest against plans to set up a centre for asylum seekers at a disused prison in an East Sussex town, campaigners said.

The event saw angry residents holding up placards and marching through Bexhill.

The protest was organised by the No to Northeye campaign.

Today’s protest came in response to the Home Office’s proposals to turn Northeye, a former prison and training centre in Bexhill, into a centre for up to 1,200 asylum seekers.

The site is one of several in the UK to be chosen by the Government to house asylum seekers.

The plans were first unveiled at the end of March and since then several gatherings by concerned residents from the area have been held, as well as several protests.

Nigel Jacklin, from the No to Northeye campaign, said: “Around 200 people gathered in protest. The group, many bearing No to Northeye posters, met up at Little Common roundabout and walked in to Bexhill along Birkdale with a police escort.

“The group walked into Town Hall Square and then walked down to the De La Warr Pavilion.

"The No to Northeye group provided copies of letters to people to deliver to Bexhill MP Huw Merriman, saying he had not represented them and they would not vote for him. The first batch of letters were delivered to his office at the end of the event. Another walk is planned for Saturday, June 10, departing once again from the Little Common roundabout at 1pm and walking into Bexhill.”

Last week, Mr Merriman revealed that he did not oppose plans to build the centre for asylum seekers at Northeye.

He was speaking on Good Morning Britain on Friday, May 12 with presenters Kate Garraway and Adil Ray.

The presenters were discussing the BBC Question Time episode on May 11, which was filmed at the De La Warr Pavilion, in which there were laughter and jeers from the audience when social care minister, Helen Whately said Mr Merriman was a ‘strong voice for people in the Government’.

Mr Merriman said: “You can imagine people are disappointed and that disappointment comes through to me as an MP. I am a member of the Government that is delivering these policies and I recognise the anger but I have always been straight with people. I won’t be two-faced and say, well I am a constituency MP, I do not agree with this but as I am a Government minister I do.

“Our policy is to move asylum seekers away from hotels. They are costly and they are not safe in terms of people being targeted by modern slavery gangs. I would rather see people housed in more humane situations where there is something to do, where it does not blight hotels and the areas around them. I know that causes a challenge for my constituents. I obviously want to mitigate that by making sure that there is enough security in place and NHS provision provided in the camp.

"But someone has got to step up and say ‘I take responsibility for this’ and I am willing to do that. If I get shot down on that basis then I just have to accept it.”

A legal challenge launched by Bexhill resident, Jeff Newnham, in a bid to fight the Government’s Northeye plans has also raised thousands of pounds so far.

Jeff Newnham launched the legal action earlier this month, setting up a fundraising page on CrowdJustice, to help towards legal costs, which so far has raised more than £6,500.

Mr Merriman met with Home Office officials last month, as well as leaders from local authorities and public services to discuss the plans.

He said the first 400 people are expected to arrive at the centre in September, followed by another 400, with the final 400 arriving by December.

Mr Merriman has also said that he does not oppose the plans to build the centre at Northeye.

The Home Office added the site will accommodate single adult male asylum seekers.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “By designing the site to be as self-sufficient as possible, we would minimise the impact on local communities and services. This includes consideration of impacts to the community during both construction and operational phases. As proposals develop, we will work closely with local stakeholders to manage any impact on the local area.”