PORTLAND has changed in character since the asylum seekers barge was brought to the island – Dorset Council has been told.

Martine Sommers told the council’s annual meeting that people on Portland were now afraid to speak out for fear of being branded a racist.

“Throughout the past year the Island of Portland and its people have changed irrevocably, almost beyond recognition.

“This was a very happy island, people spoke openly regarding issues or problems that arose. People are now reticent to discuss the barge openly with one another for fear of being labelled a racist, right-wing, bigoted, or being targeted and intimidated; closing down intelligent conversation and introducing cancel-culture,” she said.

She said that the multi-agency forum which had been set up had failed to tackle Portlanders' issues and was not dealing with the increasing costs of the barge and near-empty buses running into Weymouth for asylum seekers.

She said that extra CCTV on Portland had not materialised and some people remained fearful although reports coming out of the Forum were biased and only spoke of the benefits of the barge for the men living on it.

“It appears to be forgetting the needs and concerns of the islanders. It feels as though there is full representation for the men but a reluctance to represent the important and real feelings of the islanders… there is no forum to ask questions and obtain answers. Tax-paying people of Portland and Weymouth must not be forgotten and deserve a voice.”

She said something needed to change and suggested setting up a generic email address for local people to raise questions and concerns “in an adult and civilised manner without being targeted as a nuisance or a grossly-unfair racist.”

She said that, so far, the Forum had only provided an “almost utopian and one-sided view of the barge” while either not meeting or ignoring the views of the people of Portland.

Council Leader Nick Ireland told the meeting that Dorset Council was on record as opposing the barge and had previously passed a resolution to say it was an inappropriate location and to have it removed as soon as possible.

“It was not sought, or agreed to, by Dorset Council… our position is still to mitigate the impact this will have on Dorset,” said Cllr Ireland.

He said any decisions over the barge remained with the Home Office, not Dorset Council.