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Riverside barge set to be home for refugees


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She has been a blot on the Medway scene for the last two years.

But the giant accommodation barge dominating views of the river in Rochester could soon be on the move.

Advanced talks are under way to move the vessel, Hillside, to a Dutch yard where it would house about 200 refugees in Holland.

The boat has been on the Medway for years
The boat has been on the Medway for years

If the deal goes ahead, residents may have the benefit of a cinema/theatre and leisure areas.

The vessel appeared suddenly overnight in 2013 and has been moored alongside the multimillion-pound Rochester Riverside regeneration project ever since.

Resembling a block of flats afloat, its arrival initially got people scratching their heads as to what she was doing here.

Could she be used as an overflow for crowded prisons, similar to the hulks at Chatham Dockyard during the Napoleonic wars? Other rumours emerged that it could be transformed into a “boatel” like the one in Amsterdam.

Hillside has been traced to Sanderson Maritime in Merseyside, which put her up for sale or hire.

Hillside was built for the Dutch navy and was revamped and upgraded in 2004. She has more recently been used by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth as temporary accommodation for crews in the process of changing ships.

The barge was towed from Portsmouth by GPS Marine Services based at Chatham Docks on behalf of Sanderson Maritime.

It was said at the time that Hillside would be here for about four weeks using the Medway as a temporary mooring space.

The barge is to be taken to Holland to house refugees
The barge is to be taken to Holland to house refugees

Julian Sanderson, of Sanderson Maritime, said: “We are in negotiations with a number of potential charterers for the barge.

“The use would be for housing refugees. Discussions are taking place with regional authorities in at least four European countries and the UK is not one of them.

“About 15 years ago, the Dutch government had a major refugee crisis and had a policy of dispersing refugees to every community in the country. They are implementing the same policy.

“As they don’t want to use the local housing stock and they support living in water, a barge is the ideal solution.”

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