GOVERNMENT plans to scrap a residential development in favour of creating an immigration detention centre on the site of a notorious facility have been described as "madness".

Durham county councillors are demanding answers after Ministry of Justice plans emerged, proposing to turn the former Hassockfield Detention Centre, in Medomsley, into a Category 3-style prison to detain around 80 people who have had applications for UK residency denied.

The council had approved a planning application from Homes England for 127 new homes on the site, over a year ago.

UPDATE: MP defends decision to create immigration detention centre

READ MORE: Plans to build homes on borstal site

Objectors argue it will be inhumane to “shovel” people who may have been rescued from refugee boats to the North-East, while there is anger the move will deprive the community of much-needed affordable housing.

The site has been dogged by controversy. In recent years a major investigation into historic abuse prompted allegations of sexual and physical assaults from hundreds of men detained as youngsters in what was the Medomsley Detention Centre in the 70s and 80s.

The facility later became Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, which closed in 2015 with the loss of about 150 jobs. In 2004, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood became the youngest person to die in custody when he hanged himself.

The Northern Echo: Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in Medomsley, County Durham, where Adam Rickwood died at the age of 14, becoming the youngest person to die while in custody in Britain.  NOT AVAILABLE FOR PRINT SALES

The Northern Echo understands the MoJ told Homes England they intended to take the land back and approached the council’s planning department requesting a certificate of lawfulness for the its plans.

READ MORE: Adam Rickwood case - youthful horseplay that led to illegal restraint and ultimate tragedy

When told the council would need to place it on the public portal for scrutiny, the MoJ said it would get back to the authority. The MoJ has since said it does not need the certificate as the site already has the necessary permissions.

Councillor Jane Brown, who represents Delves Lane, said: “I am quite shocked. Where is the sense in dragging people - who may have been rescued from dangerous refugee boats in the English Channel or the back of lorries parked in southern ports – over 400 miles up the country into the hills on County Durham? It is madness.

“These are people they will be flying out of the country - and will be doing so from the south. I really do not believe it is humanely right to shovel people up the country for an indefinite period while the appeal process takes place.

“I have every sympathy with anyone fleeing any country, but nobody is landing in Whitely Bay. they are landing in the south.”

She added: “This is a very unpleasant environment. it has not been used for seven years.

“The housing was approved and the Housing and Community Agency was going to be one of the funders, because they were providing social housing. which is much-needed, as we have 10,500 on our waiting list.”

Cllr Malcolm Clarke said: “I was shocked to learn that the plans for much needed social housing has been scrapped in favour of a immigration detention centre."

READ MORE: More than 120 people come forward with claims of sex and physical abuse at Consett detention centre

The county council has confirmed it was approached by the MoJ and a meeting had taken place with its planning department.

The authority understood the MoJ wished to progress the potential to use the site as an immigration detention centre.

Based on information provided it was considered that a new planning permission would not be required.

The council said, however, it would still expect consultation with local councillors, residents and stakeholders in the area, if the MoJ wishes to proceed with this proposition.

The MoJ referred The Northern Echo to the Home Office for comment.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The public rightly expect us to maintain a robust immigration system, which immigration detention plays a crucial role in.

“This Government will ensure the detention estate is fit-for-purpose, including having enough capacity to detain and remove those who have no right to remain in the UK.”

It would not be drawn further.