A Portland town councillor is ‘reluctantly’ taking Dorset Council to court after a judge ruled it was the authority’s responsibility to ensure the Bibby Stockholm barge had the correct planning permission.
Island mayor Carralyn Parkes, who is bringing the action as a private citizen, tried to take the Home Office to court over its decision to house 500 asylum seekers aboard the vessel, which was built to take 200 residents. However, in October Mr Justice Holgate ruled that the Home Secretary was not the correct target for the claim say her lawyers: ‘seemingly putting responsibility for planning objections solely on local authorities’. A spokesman for Carralyn’s legal team said: “Following the court’s decision, our client has therefore been left with no option but to issue a claim against Dorset Council for their ongoing failure to take enforcement action in respect of the Bibby Stockholm, which she believes is part of their jurisdiction. Establishing that the local authority has jurisdiction over the barge would allow the nature of the plans to be properly examined and would ensure that relevant regulations are complied with. This is therefore a significant and important planning case with wider implications for the powers of local authorities.”
Carralyn said: “I have been really reluctant to take my local authority to court. Although I am acting as a private individual, as an elected town councillor I recognise the difficult position that the Home Secretary has put Dorset Council in.
“However, I also strongly disagree with Dorset Council’s ongoing determination that it does not have jurisdiction over the Bibby Stockholm barge.
“I feel very strongly the decision to accommodate people in this way in Portland has been imposed upon us as the local community, without any consultation, without proper processes being followed, and without local people having the opportunity to raise concerns and objections.
“I believe that in the 21st century the Bibby Stockholm is a wholly unsuitable place to house asylum seekers and I am very concerned about the risks to the vulnerable people who will shortly again be accommodated on the barge.”
An initial attempt to place asylum seekers on board in August ended in farce after legionella was discovered on board. There have also been serious concerns over fire safety. But in the last couple of weeks the Home Office has started to place migrants there again.
The news comes after it was claimed that a 23-year-old Nigerian man who has been in the UK at least five years, told he was to be forced to live on the barge, attempted to take his own life.
Nicola David, of One Life To Live, campaigns against inappropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers. Of the young man who attempted suicide she said: “This has been a horrific incident – a tragedy which was entirely preventable. Before covid, asylum-seekers lived among us in the community.
“Now, they are ‘othered’: segregated away into ghettoes and deprived of respect and dignity… Here is a young man, with his whole life ahead of him, who was treated as a number and not a human being, and for whom the prospect of the Bibby Stockholm was simply too much. The Home Office should feel deep shame – if it knows how.”
Claudia Sorin, of the West Dorset Labour Party, said: “It’s an unsuitable type of accommodation where there have been concerns about health and safety.
“I can understand why asylum seekers might think of it as a prison considering the site and its location. It’s a long way from the town centre and services, in an area which already has many social and economic challenges. I am not certain that the government are going to save any taxpayers’ money by housing migrants on the barge.”
Carralyn’s lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors added: “Our client is seeking a determination by the Court that Dorset Council has erred in law in determining it cannot take planning enforcement action against the use and/or stationing of the Bibby Stockholm barge connected to a finger pier and access road in Portland Harbour, notwithstanding that the Home Secretary has not applied for planning permission.”
In a statement Dorset Council said it “is very disappointed at Ms Parkes’ decision to issue judicial review proceedings claim against the council.
“Ms Parkes will be aware that, after much consideration and having taken advice from King’s Counsel, Dorset Council decided it was not appropriate to use public funds to actively pursue legal action against the Home Secretary regarding the siting of the Bibby Stockholm at Portland Port.
“The council continues to stand by the decision it made in July this year that the Bibby Stockholm is outside its planning jurisdiction and so does not have planning enforcement powers.
“The arguments Ms Parkes is making to dispute this position are materially the same as the ones put before the High Court as part of her claim against the Home Secretary. Mr Justice Holgate found those unarguable. Ms Parkes is now attempting to reargue materially the same unarguable points, but replacing the Home Secretary with Dorset Council as the Defendant. The council has already been required to incur legal costs by participating in Ms Parkes’ claim against the Home Secretary. Ms Parkes’ decision to pursue materially the same arguments against the council will simply force the council to incur further costs to taxpayers – funds which should be used for the people of Dorset.
“The council does not doubt that Ms Parkes is acting with good intentions and out of concern for those to be accommodated on the Bibby Stockholm. As publicly stated, the council shares many of those concerns. Ms Parkes’ cause is not served, however, by pursuing points against the council which the court has already found to be unarguable.
“In his judgement on Wednesday this week Mr Justice Holgate invited Ms Parkes to undergo a process of “mature reflection” before issuing any fresh claim against the council. Just two days later, however, Ms Parkes has done just that. The council invites Ms Parkes to reconsider her position.”