A giant barge which will be used to house asylum seekers off the Dorset coast has arrived in UK waters.
The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge will stop in Falmouth, Cornwallwhere it will undergo inspection and refitting.
The 222-bedroom, three-storey vessel, will house around 500 single male asylum seekers when it is in position in Portland Port, off the Dorset coastal town of Weymouth.
It will be ready for use this summer and will be operational for at least 18 months.
The Home Office said the accommodation will be “basic” with healthcare provision, catering facilities and 24/7 security, at a reported cost of £20,000 a day.
It did not say how much the lease agreement cost but insisted it is “significantly cheaper than hotels”.
However, the plan has faced criticism from Tory-run Dorset Council and local Conservative MP Richard Drax.
Mr Drax threatened legal action over the ‘floatel’, sparking fears of fresh tensions in the Conservative Party.
The South Dorset MP, who has previously backed rigorous measures to cut the UK’s level of immigration, said the barge was “dumped on our door” without consultation by the Home Office and urged Home Secretary Suella Braverman to scrap the idea.
In April, Mr Drax described the Portland Port site as a “very, very restricted area” and raised concerns about keeping hundreds of vulnerable people there, which he said would place pressure on the port’s “very small” police force.
The journey of the giant barge set to house asylum seekers
Home Office confirms plan to house asylum seekers in giant barge
He told Sky News those being accommodated on the barge would be bussed in from the port to nearby Portland Harbour, which is a “summer resort dependent almost entirely on visitors and tourists” with busy beaches not far away.
The government is also facing criticism from charities and human rights campaigners who said the accommodation is not appropriate for people fleeing war.
Liverpool-based operator Bibby Marine Limited said last month that the barge had been refurbished since it was described as an “oppressive environment” used for asylum seekers in the Netherlands.
Portland Port chief executive Bill Reeves said: “We encourage everyone in the community to approach this with an open mind and help us show other areas just how successful this type of initiative can be, both for the migrants and the local community.”
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously said the barge would save taxpayers’ money, with the government currently spending around £6m a day housing asylum seekers in hotels.
The Times previously reported that the vessel would cost £15,000 a day to charter, while the cost of berthing it in Portland would be more than £4,500 a day.
Additional costs would be required for services, including security and catering.
However, Labor said the barge is in addition to, not instead of, hotel accommodation.
Last year 45,755 people crossed the Channel in small boats, while more than 6,000 have arrived so far this year.