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Protest over plans for migrant centre at former Ladesfield Care Home in Vulcan Close, Whitstable

By Chris Pragnell

Protesters gathered in Whitstable to demonstrate against plans to house up to 50 teenaged asylum seekers between a primary school and a nursery.

Dozens of residents – including parents of children at the primary – met outside the seaside town’s library on Saturday to voice their concerns.

Last week we revealed how Kent County Council plans to accommodate the unaccompanied migrants, all boys, at the former Ladesfield Care Home in Vulcan Close.

Campaigners say the proposed site for the hostel is inappropriate
Campaigners say the proposed site for the hostel is inappropriate

The care home, which closed in 2011, is next to Joy Lane Primary School and Whitstable Day Nursery, as well as the town’s Age UK Centre.

Victoria Madden, who has two children at the school, said: “The protest is about the fact we were not told and had no chance to voice our opinions on the housing of 16, 17 and 18-year-old ‘young men’ – as they put it in our meeting – probably no more than 20 feet from the school.

“They’re talking about putting up six foot fences, 24 hour security – I didn’t send my kids to school for it to be a prison.

“I sent my kids to school so they had the free run of the playground without wondering what’s behind the six foot fence.”

Ms Madden, of Lucerne Drive in Seasalter, said she was angered about the lack of consultation.

“Nobody’s spoken to us to allay our fears. We’ve just been told it’s happening, get used to it,” she said.

“They’re not even assessed until they get to Ladesfield. It’s holding facility. There’s no risk assessments.

“I’m not in any way against taking them in, but location is the main thing. You’ve got a nursery, Age Concern, and Joy Lane primary, all within 20 feet.”

As the demonstrators unfurled flags and banners in the town centre, many passing motorists sounded their horns in apparent support.

Protesters Michelle Shortlands, Lisa Hill, Stacey Spratt and Emma Sands
Protesters Michelle Shortlands, Lisa Hill, Stacey Spratt and Emma Sands

Mick O’Shea, of Albion Lane, Herne Bay, said he was extremely concerned about the lack of information about the background of the migrants.

“We’re a very small island. The British have been renowned for hundreds and hundreds of years for helping people, it doesn’t matter in what situation,” he said.

“But these people that are crossing the channel now are not a pretty sight – they’re fit, strong, full grown fighting people. To me they’re not refugees, these are economic migrants.

“And possibly – and we don’t know because everything’s destroyed when they get to Calais documentation-wise – they could be potential terrorists too.”

Another parent of a Joy Lane pupil, Emma Sands, had kept her nine-year-old daughter Tia off school on the last day of term in protest at KCC’s plans.

Ms Sands, of Eversleigh Rise, Whitstable, said: “The protest is about the location, overlooking a primary school and right next door to a nursery.

“Our fears are that we have no known age of these young men. We’re told 16, 17, but from previous experience of other centres that actually not of that age, they’re older.

“There’s no medical history, they come with no passport, basically we’re worried about the safety of our own children.”

Ms Sands said she felt sorry for the migrants seeking asylum in the UK, but felt that Ladesfield should be put to use to help other vulnerable people.

“I sympathise, if they are coming from war torn countries,” she said. “But we are a very small country, we’re taking on far too many, and we can’t even look after our own elderly or homeless – that’s really what we feel those buildings should be used for.

“Our elderly were thrown out of Ladesfield because it was uninhabitable yet now the council are going to plough money into it for immigrants while we’re not looking after our own first.”

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