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'End asylum seeker myth'

RUSHMOOR’S newest Labour councillor has angered Tory counterparts after attacking the “fallacy” that asylum seekers are to blame for the lack of affordable housing in the borough.

North Town councillor, Carolyne Culver, said that the push for more affordable housing would be a major priority during her first term in office.

The growing gap between house prices and wages means that young people, including herself, found it increasingly difficult to buy a home in the area.

But she labelled those who blame asylum seekers for the lack of affordable housing as racist, and urged her fellow councillors to set the record straight.

She first became aware of the issue in Aldershot during recent discussions over the housing development at Innisfail Gardens.

“I was concerned when some residents said that they did not want asylum seekers moving to their neighbourhood.

“It’s a fallacy that affordable housing will be occupied by asylum seekers. In 2002 there were only 19 asylum seekers in Rushmoor, including five children, out of a borough population of 88,100.

“The young people of Rushmoor, struggling to make ends meet, should not be denied affordable housing because of the racism of a small but vocal minority.”

But the comments have angered two Conservative councillors, who claim to have had numerous complaints over the influx of asylum seekers into the borough.

Cllr Mike Smith said he was “disgusted” by the remarks. He invited Cllr Culver to visit residents of his Grange ward, and hear firsthand experience of how people had been forced to move out of the area because of the shortage of housing.

“She says that it is a ‘minority’, but I can tell her that it is an ever-increasing point of view. The view that asylum seekers are taking housing from locals is not racist — it is realist.

“I think the figure of 19 is misleading, but if it is true, even 19 is far too many.

“When there is a shortage of affordable housing, the priority should be with local people who have waited their turn.”

Fellow Grange councillor Jon Weston backed his colleague, saying: “This shows that many Labour and Liberal members will say anything to the people to get elected. But when they become councillors or MPs, their true colours show.

“How can we trust the party which supports the integration of so many asylum seekers, at the risk to the safety of this island and its people.

“They say that there are only 19 asylum seekers in Rushmoor, but this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Responding to the criticism, Cllr Culver said: “The facts and the figures speak for themselves — 19 asylum seekers is a drop in the ocean and does not have a huge impact on housing.

“It is the responsibility of local councillors to address these issues. I have been a councillor for only a few weeks but have been able to establish the true facts.”

In contrast to his Tory colleagues, the cabinet member responsible for housing strategy denied that asylum seekers were to blame for the lack of affordable housing.

Cllr David Welch said: ““We have done all that we can to try to increase the amount of affordable housing in Rushmoor.

“I can categorically say that asylum seekers do not push others off the housing register.

“Other people can disagree as much as they like.

It is all very well making these bland statements, but if they cannot be more specific, then there is nothing that we can do.”

Both Cllr Welch and Cllr Culver sighted Project Connaught — the release of MOD land — as an opportunity to boost the borough’s affordable housing stock.

Rushmoor’s head of housing services, Alison Whiteley, said there was a continual local “myth” that asylum seekers were taking housing away from residents.

“The council’s policy on asylum seekers is dictated by law. We cannot accept people on our housing register unless the immigration status has been determined.

“The responsibility to house asylum seekers is with the Home Office. They have contracts in different areas to provide housing. There are no such contracts in this area.

“The responsibility was formerly with social services, which is where this figure of 19 has come from. That figure has now come right down.”


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