Hull University scraps plan to sell Cottingham student halls to house asylum seekers

The university had floated the idea of selling The Lawns (pictured) and Ferens Hall to the Home Office to accommodate people awaiting asylum decisions. Credit: MEN

A university has scrapped plans to sell former student halls to house asylum seekers following a public backlash.

Residents, MPs and councillors voiced opposition after Hull University revealed it was considering selling The Lawns and Ferens Hall in Cottingham to the Home Office.

Hundreds of people attended a tense public meeting in the village, which has an estimated population of just over 17,000, last week.

In a statement, the university's vice-chancellor Prof David Petley said the university had ruled out selling the property to the Home Office or any other buyers working for the Home Office.

He said: "We have listened closely to the feedback from the community and, following constructive conversations with members of the community, regional MPs, the police, the NHS, local authorities and other key stakeholders, we have taken this decision based on the concerns which have been raised."

Independent East Riding councillor Geraldine Mathieson, who represents the Cottingham North ward, said it was "excellent news" as there had been "genuine fear" surrounding the plans.

Conservative MP David Davis welcomed the news, after previously saying the plan was "a bad idea" and the location was "not the right place for them".

Labour MP for Hull North Diana Johnson said: "We've already got many asylum seekers in the city, they're very welcome. We're a city of sanctuary, but it's not fair to put a large number of asylum seekers on the edge of Hull because they will be looking to Hull for support".

Cottingham residents had mixed reactions to the announcement.

Gwen (left) said the plans had worried people, but that the asylum seekers at nearby Thwaite Hall were 'polite and friendly'. Credit: Duncan Young

One woman, Gwen, said the plans had worried people.

“A lot of people were upset, they weren’t happy because we’re just a small village," she said. "People were getting quite highly strung about it here."

Another woman, who asked not to be named, said she people needed to be more understanding of what asylum seekers had been through.

“I can understand people’s worries, but for me it comes down to have some empathy and compassion with the asylum seekers," she said.

“There’s lots of people who come here who face dire situations and they need our help."

The University of Hull has said it will continue efforts to find an acceptable use for The Lawns (pictured) and Ferens Hall buildings. Credit: MEN

Another, who said she once worked with asylum seekers, said she was conflicted on the issue.

"These people need a home, but the problem is they also need to be able to have a life and to work, they also need services which can support them," she said.

Prof Petley added that the university still intended to sell the property.

He added: "We will continue to engage with key stakeholders in the region to determine a financially viable alternative for The Lawns and Ferens Hall that reflects the communities’ priorities."

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