From protests to judicial reviews, the Bibby Stockholm looks like it’s sinking fast

People protesting against the far right near the Bibby Stockholm
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The Tories are now facing a judicial review over the Bibby Stockholm refugee detention barge. It comes whilst the Home Office is holding no-one on the vessel due to legionella found in the water. Meanwhile, the far-right were out protesting at the weekend but were met by anti-fascists.

Bibby Stockholm: protests and legionella

The Canary has been documenting the controversy surrounding the Bibby Stockholm. Recently, a campaign group revealed that the Tories had already spent £560,000 in four weeks on the barge. As the Canary‘s Glen Black previously wrote:

chartering and berthing the barge cost £20,000 and £4500 per day respectively. These are fixed costs regardless of whether anyone is on board the vessel.

Of course, no one has really been on board the Bibby Stockholm. Black wrote:

The government briefly caged 39 refugees on the barge before evacuating them on 11 August. Tests had revealed the presence of legionella in the water system.

As of Monday 11 September, the Bibby Stockholm was still empty. Reports are now emerging of the refugees who were briefly on board being allowed to drink the water even after the discovery of the legionella. So far, thankfully, no one has reported being ill. However, the Bibby Stockholm remains mired in controversy – as protests showed.

ITV News reported that:

Read on...

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A far-right group and an anti-racism group have clashed on Portland after holding demonstrations on 9 September.

Groups continue to protest against the Bibby Stockholm barge which is docked at Portland Port in Dorset.

One of the protests was organised by far-right group Patriotic Alternative. It has repeatedly targeted refugees this year. However, in Portland the group was resisted by Stand Up To Racism and others:

On top of this, a local resident is now taking the Tories to a judicial review over the Bibby Stockholm.

Councils’ hands tied?

As the Canary previously reported, Carralyn Parkes is the mayor of Portland, a Labour councillor on Portland Town Council, and a local resident. After Dorset Council chose not to go ahead with a legal challenge to the Bibby Stockholm – and with Portland Town Council having no statutory authority to do so – Parkes is doing it herself, in her capacity as a private resident.

She applied for a judicial review based around issues with planning permission for the barge. Her law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn noted that:

Dorset Council have said publicly that they consider that planning permission is not necessary for the installation, operation and use of the barge in Dorset to accommodate asylum seekers, because the barge lies below the mean low water mark, and is therefore not within the local planning authority’s jurisdiction.

Parkes disagrees. This is because the:

  1. Idea of a ‘low water mark’ as a boundary for planning permission should be “interpreted flexibly”. Parkes argues that in this instance, the Bibby Stockholm is in the local planning authority’s jurisdiction as it’s in the harbour.
  2. The Bibby Stockholm is attached to the land for electricity, sewage, and so on. Therefore, it is “effectively a permanent structure” like a pier, so does fall under planning rules.

On 8 September 2023, Parkes officially issued a judicial review claim challenging the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.

The Tories in court over the Bibby Stockholm

Deighton Pierce Glynn said in a press release:

Dorset Council and Portland Port Limited are listed as Interested Parties in the claim, meaning that they will have opportunity to make submissions, file evidence and participate in the case.

Our client is asking the Court to declare that the Home Office’s use of the barge as asylum accommodation is capable of constituting ‘development’ for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and therefore that it may amount to a breach of planning control and may be the subject of enforcement by Dorset Council. Her claim argues that the Home Office is attempting the ‘technical wheeze’ of using a boat as asylum accommodation in order to circumvent normal planning rules, which would apply if the barge was instead installed on land. As a result, local residents’ ability to raise objections to the barge and its use in Portland, via their local authority, is severely hampered. It also places the barge outside the reach of important statutory protections such as overcrowding legislation.

Ms Parkes also argues that the Home Office has not complied with its environmental impact assessment duties. This is in relation to holding people long-term on the barge. Deighton Pierce Glynn also noted that:

The claim also argues that the Home Office has not complied with its Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010, which includes prohibition on discrimination on the basis of race, and a duty to foster good relations between those who share a protected characteristic (such as race), and those who do not. It is argued that the Equality Impact Assessment, conducted only days before the barge’s use commenced, is woefully inadequate as it fails to consider the impact of the barge’s operation in radicalising far-right extremism or the equality impact of segregating rather than integrating asylum seekers.

You can donate to Parkes’s crowdfunder for the judicial review here. So far, the government has not responded. However, with protests ongoing, no-one on the barge, and now Parkes’s judicial review, the Tories’ plans for the Bibby Stockholm look increasingly sunk.

Featured image via Stand Up To Racism

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