AN MP has defended proposals to use a notorious former detention centre to house illegal immigrants awaiting deportation saying it was a "sensible use of taxpayers money".

North West Durham’s Tory MP Richard Holden was reacting to criticism from Labour councillors who said it would be inhumane to "shovel" immigrants up to the North-East when they would fly out of south of country.

And they criticised the scrapping of a residential housing scheme on the former Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, in Medomsley - previously the Medomsley Detention Centre.

The Ministry of Justice plans to create a Category 3-style prison to detain around 80 people who have had applications for UK residency denied.

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

Mr Holden said: “Genuine refugees must always be supported, but I believe failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals should be housed in secure facilities until they are deported, not free to roam the streets.

“We need enough capacity to detain and remove those who have no right to be in the UK in fit-for-purpose, secure, modern facilities."

He added: “To re-use the Hassockfield site as a secure immigration removal facility for 80 inmates is a sensible use of taxpayers’ money and the 150 good full-time local jobs in North West Durham that will be created are a very significant boost to the local economy from a Conservative government that is determined to see foreign criminals deported.”

Meanwhile, Durham county councillor Alan Shield, a Derwentside Independent who represents Leadgate and Medomsley, rejected Labour councillors' arguments.

He said: "A lot of people (in the area) have said if it is 150 jobs for area that is good. However we need some assurance it is going to be a secure facility and we are not going to be subject to people wandering about."

He added: "One of the Labour councillors said there would be loss of social housing.

"But of the 127 homes approved, there was only ever going to be a requirement of 10 per cent for social housing. That would have been 13 to 15 houses."

Cllr Shield added residents had been concerned about the size of the housing development, which would have generated hundreds more vehicles travelling on rural roads that are heavily over-used.

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.