Bibby Stockholm: All you need to know about asylum seeker barge coming to Portland

Officials spoke about the Bibby Stockholm at a press conference today. Credit: PA

Representatives from Dorset Council and Dorset Police met to firm up details on the Bibby Stockholm that is coming to Portland this summer.

The barge will house 506 asylum seekers for a year and a half, with the Home Office paying the council £3,500 per occupied bed.

Plans to moor the vessel in Portland Port, near Weymouth, have been met with protests from some groups.

Dorset Council opposed the idea when it was first proposed, but had to give way to the Home Office.

Officials spoke at a press conference today

Today at a press briefing in Dorset Council Museum, Councillor Laura Beddow, cabinet member for culture and communities, said the local authority had tried to respond to the challenge in a "calm, prepared, measured way".

Cllr Beddow said: "Do I think it's the right location? Probably not. I would have preferred it not to be in Portland. I think for a variety of reasons, we've always had concerned about the impact on services.

"However, we have fought really, really hard to get the funding agreements in place that we think we need, to mitigate that.

"It wasn't our decision, but we will carry out our duties in a calm and competent way."

A number of questions were answered at the press briefing today.

How many people will the Bibby Stockholm house?

When it was a commercial vessel, the barge had space for 220 people in single en-suite rooms.

Now, after undergoing renovation work in Falmouth, it has been split into mainly twin rooms, with some four and six-person rooms, all with en-suites.

Speaking at the press conference, Dorset Council chief executive Matt Prosser confirmed that the on-board bar had been removed as part of the barge's renovation.

How much money will the asylum seekers receive?

As they are being housed, clothed and fed on the barge, each person will receive between £9 and £10 weekly.

When will it arrive?

A date has still not been given for the arrival of the Bibby Stockholm in Portland Port. It remains in a dry dock in Falmouth after its renovation.

Councillor Laura Beddow said today that its arrival was weather-dependent, with Dorset Police chief superintendent Richard Bell adding that it was due an inspection this Friday, to check its seaworthiness.

It is expected to reach Portland within the next few weeks. When it docks, it will have to be connected to services and then the management company CTN will go aboard to familiarise themselves with the vessel before residents arrive.

How much is the Home Office paying the council?

The Home Office is paying Dorset Council £3,500 per person based on a national funding formula, which amounts to £1.7 million in total.

Councillor Laura Beddow said that extra funding for voluntary and community services had also been confirmed.

The council has received a £377,000 one-off payment for support and activities like English-speaking lessons.

The Bibby Stockholm has been undergoing refurbishment in Falmouth, Cornwall. Credit: PA

Will there be any extra policing while the barge is there?

There will be two additional community safety officers in Portland and Weymouth, as well as extended CCTV hours.

Who will be staying on the Bibby Stockholm?

The people staying on the barge will be asylum seekers who have already been in the UK for some time and they will remain there until their asylum claims are decided.

On worries around cultural differences, Ch Supt Richard Bell said: "We understand the community concern. We appreciate there is some anxiety in the community," and he added that extra patrols would be taking place to reassure residents.

How will they get to the mainland?

People staying on the barge will only be able to leave by bus because Portland Port is a secure location.

Councillor Laura Beddow said: "The people on the barge are not detained, that's really important. There will be hourly buses to start with."

There will be two bus stops in Weymouth, one in Portland, and the residents are expected to return by 11pm each night.

How will their healthcare be paid for?

Paul Johnson, a representative for NHS Dorset, said that the Home Office had granted more funding to cover the 500 asylum seekers arriving in Portland.

He said: "The funding that we have available in the NHS in Dorset, we are spending all of that on current residents. We don’t have any spare resource available.

"So the Home Office have provided the money we need to make sure we can care for these extra 500 people."

He acknowledged that the barge residents may have additional mental health needs depending on what they had experienced before reaching the UK.

But to people in Dorset, he said: “The level of service you’re receiving now will be no different when the barge arrives."