By Nick Owen
Planning permission to convert a special-needs school in Pease Pottage into a privately owned ‘pre-departure accommodation facility’ for families facing deportation has been approved by Mid Sussex District Council.
Over 30 protesters from the direct action group No Borders met outside the council building in Haywards Heath on Thursday (March 24) to protest the decision.
Local residents and campaigners have voiced widespread disapproval of the plans to convert Crawley Forest School into a detention centre.
A No Borders campaigner, who did not wish to be named, said: “I’ve visited children in detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and I’ve seen the consequences.
“Whether it’s a detention centre or a deportation hostel, it’s barbarous no matter how you dress it up.”
Despite the Coalition’s pledge to end the detention of children awaiting deportation, the approved application will see the third such centre opened in the last 12 months.
The centres allow private accommodation providers to run ‘secure hostels’ for families who have exhausted all appeals to remain within the country.
Nick Clegg heralded the move as “an enormous cultural shift within our immigration system”.
The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) lodged the planning application on February 2 on behalf of Arora International Hotels, the parent company of Crossroads Children’s Education Services, who manage Crawley Forest School.
After the application was made, the Home Office wrote to Mid Sussex District Council asking it not to publish the application details due to ‘sensitive information’ – a request usually reserved for military facilities.
The school was not informed of the decision until it was contacted by campaigners in late February.
School pupils and staff have been told they must vacate the premises by April 1 to allow the detention facility to be operational by May 11 – the date when family wings in detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood are set to close.
A spokesperson for the research group Corporate Watch, which describes itself as part of an ‘anti-corporate movement’, said: “No open procurement tendering process for the facility, as required by EU and UK legislation, has taken place, which suggests that there may have been some dodgy, behind-closed-doors deal between the UKBA and the Arora Group.”
At the time of publication, the Arora Group had not responded to our requests for an official comment.
The residential school currently houses eight pupils, despite having the capacity for 35 residential students and 35 day pupils.
The proposal was approved by 14 votes to one, a council spokesperson confirmed.