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Fenland Council in uphill battle to stop hotel housing asylum seekers

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It remains touch and go if Fenland District Council will obtain an interim injunction to stop the Rose & Crown Hotel, Wisbech, from being used to house asylum seekers.

Officials will be poring over what is happening elsewhere as a number of councils try and stop hotels being contracted out as part of a government scheme to find temporary accommodation to tackle an asylum crisis.

Fenland Council says part of its argument is that “the change of the hotel to use as a hostel is a breach of planning law and the harm arising from such a breach is significant”.

But at one hearing in London, a barrister representing two hotels facing similar challenges, suggested that this is disingenuous.

He posed the question to a judge as to how, in planning terms, using a hotel for asylum seekers brings about a change of use.

The barrister pointed out that anyone could book a hotel whether that was tourists or the Home Office.

And he also questioned whether an injunction would comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Human Rights Act.

The barrister was speaking in a case being heard about interim injunctions already obtained by Ipswich Borough Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Both councils want those injunctions extended; currently the hotels are blocked from housing asylum seekers in their areas.

The judge hearing the case, Mr Justice Holgate, has not said when he will make his decision.

Fenland Council will draw little consolation from another case that began this week.

Rose and Crown Hotel, Wisbech, Wednesday 09 November 2022.

North Northamptonshire Council applied for an injunction to halt the Royal Hotel, Kettering, from being used for asylum seekers.

That application was today refused.

The council issued a statement that said: “The court determined that they did not want to consider the application on this basis and that all parties should instead be given an opportunity to be heard at the outset.

“The application was therefore dismissed on this basis; the merits of the application were not considered.”

North Northamptonshire is now planning a ‘wait and see’ policy to see how other councils get on.

Cllr Jason Smithers, Leader of North Northamptonshire Council, told NorthantsLive website: “We do not feel that the Royal Hotel in Kettering is the appropriate place to accommodate asylum seekers for a number of reasons.

“We do not feel the proposals have been properly considered to ensure the best possible welfare can be provided to asylum seekers and the local communities in which they are housed.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt – a former East Cambs and Cambridgeshire county councillor – raised the issue of hotels being used in for asylum seekers during a Commons debate yesterday.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt  raised the issue of hotels being used for asylum seekers during a Commons debate .

“Had my debate on the Novotel today,” he wrote on his blog last night.

“The court case is also being held today on whether or not the temporary injunction blocking the use of Ipswich hotels for asylum seekers will be upheld. Fingers crossed.

“I honestly do not know what the short-term outcome of all of this will be, but I gave my speech this morning some real welly. I will continue to be very outspoken on this issue.

“Both on the use of the Novotel and also the issue of illegal immigration more broadly.

“I am very concerned at the way in which some of my constituents who were employees at the Novotel have been treated.

“I’m also very concerned about the impact of the Novotel being used for this purpose on the local economy.”

Mr Hunt added: “I will always put the interests of my constituents first. Myself and my office are not there to support those who have decided to enter our country illegally from another safe European country.

“Ipswich has a proud record of welcoming genuine refugees from around the world who are fleeing persecution. We should be proud of this.

“We are a welcoming town but what is going on at the Novotel is wrong on many different levels.

“The minister in response to my speech has agreed to look again at the matter. He also said the Government will be escalating efforts to curb the crossings. Let us see.

“I will continue to work with colleagues to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on this issue.”

Another council, Stoke on Trent, has seen its legal efforts thwarted, temporarily, after a judge refused to extend a temporary injunction.

Mr Justice Linden described the council’s position as weak, even though the Stoke council had insisted, like Fenland, that using a hotel in this way constituted a serious planning control breach.

In Wisbech the stable door may have bolted: all the lights in the hotel are on, people have been seen coming and going, yet staff have been laid off.

The hotel also told the council last Friday it has a “secured a Home Office contract to accommodate people seeking asylum”.

A Fenland council spokesperson said that they were informed by Serco, the contractor which runs the Home Office’s asylum seeker operation, of its Rose and Crown plans late on Friday evening and worked on its legal case over the weekend.

Windows open and lights on as people come and go at the closed Rose and Crown Hotel, Wisbech
Wednesday 09 November 2022.

“The injunction is aimed at preventing the hotel from being used for this purpose,” said the spokesperson.

“The change of the hotel to use as a hostel is a breach of planning law and the harm arising from such a breach is significant.

“Due to the substantial risk of harm, which is unable to be mitigated, and potential suffering of the asylum seekers, it said the hotel was a wholly unsuitable place to house vulnerable people.

“It is also disappointing that Serco failed to notify the council of its plans earlier to enable any form of discussions regarding locations to take place.”

Council leader Chris Boden said: “It is thoroughly irresponsible of the Home Office to consider placing vulnerable people with no recourse to public funding in a town such as Wisbech, without any consultation or any consideration of the impact this will have on the asylum seekers themselves.

Council leader Chris Boden said: “It is thoroughly irresponsible of the Home Office to consider placing vulnerable people with no recourse to public funding in a town such as Wisbech”

“We are in a rural location, with very limited hotel accommodation and transport links, and we already have significant issues with migrant exploitation and human trafficking, which would put any people placed here at risk.”

Windows open and lights on as people come and go at the closed Rose and Crown Hotel, Wisbech
Wednesday 09 November 2022.

Cllr Sam Hoy, portfolio holder for housing, said Fenland Council “would urge the Home Office to consider more suitable locations where any new arrivals would not be subject to the level of potential harm”.

 

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