Government paying for empty rooms due to legal action, High Court told

Government paying for empty rooms due to legal action, High Court told

The Government is paying for empty hotel rooms due to legal action as councils try to block plans to house migrants in their areas, High Court hears

  • Government has been paying for the unused hotel rooms because of legal action
  • Councils asked the court to prevent migrants from being placed in local hotels
  • Some 11,200 asylum seekers are currently being housed at 84 hotels in the UK

The Government is paying for empty hotel rooms as councils try to block agreements to house migrants in their areas, the High Court has been told.

Hull and Ipswich local authorities argued at a hearing in London on Tuesday that there had been an ‘unauthorised material change of use’ under planning rules through the Home Office’s attempts to book accommodation for asylum seekers in their local areas. The councils asked for previously granted injunctions to be extended.

Lawyers representing one of the hotel companies told the court that the Government is currently paying for empty rooms at its property because of the legal action.

This comes as several local authorities across the country are now queuing up to take legal action against the government to prevent migrants from being housed in local hotels.

The court was also told that Government contractor Serco is currently responsible for 35,646 asylum seekers, of which about 11,200 are being provided with initial accommodation at 84 hotels in different parts of the country. In the last week, Serco had to find places for 950 people.

Secretary of State for the Home Department Suella Braverman is pictured arriving at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, as the court hears the councils’ case

The High Court (pictured) was told around 11,200 migrants are being provided with initial accommodation at 84 hotels in different parts of the country, on Tuesday

East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) is asking Mr Justice Holgate to continue an interim injunction preventing migrants being accommodated at the Humber View Hotel in Hull, which the local authority applied for after it was contacted by the Home Office with a proposal to use the site.

Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) is also asking for the extension of an interim injunction to stop further asylum seekers being placed at the four-star Novotel hotel in Ipswich city centre, where 72 people were already being housed.

Both local authorities secured temporary injunctions against hotel companies and contractors at urgent hearings last month, claiming there has been a breach of planning rules.

The local authorities argue the interim court orders could be extended by four to six weeks ahead of a final hearing on the issues in the cases.

The judge said he hopes to give his decision on the councils’ applications later this week.

The hearing came as Fenland District Council announced it was taking legal action to block the use of the Rose and Crown Hotel in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, to accommodate asylum seekers.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council is asking the court to continue an interim injunction preventing migrants being accommodated at the Humber View Hotel in Hull (pictured)

Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) is also asking for the extension of an interim injunction to stop further asylum seekers being placed at the Novotel hotel (pictured) in Ipswich city centre

It also follows a failed bid by Stoke-on-Trent City Council last week to continue an interim injunction preventing migrants being housed in the 88-room North Stafford Hotel close to the city’s train station.

Gethin Thomas, representing ERYC and IBC, told the court that the hotel plans did not warrant ‘turning a blind eye to planning requirements’ and that the injunction in each case was seeking ‘to prevent people from arriving’ and maintain the ‘status quo’.

Mr Thomas said the situation around the hotels was an issue ‘of the Home Office’s own making’, arguing that the Government, or the hotel companies, could have taken a different approach such as securing planning permission.

In written arguments, he said the councils’ case is that there has been an ‘unauthorised material change of use from hotel use… to hostel’.

He told the court the 101-room Novotel hotel, which can accommodate 202 people, has a 12-month contract with the Government and is not taking further bookings.

Some 11,200 asylum seekers are currently being housed at 84 hotels in the UK. An inflatable craft carrying migrant men, women and children crosses the shipping lane in the English Channel in July 2021

A group of migrants are brought into Dover Marina by Border Force and Immigration Officials in October

The council is not seeking to remove the people already present at the hotel, he said.

Mr Thomas also said there had been discussions over proposals for a 12-month term contract in relation to the Humber View Hotel for housing single males, which has cancelled all weddings, corporate events and bookings from the end of October.

He said ERYC believed the proposed hotel’s location is ‘unsuitable’ due to not having nearby services and facilities, that there were ‘road safety concerns’ due to a close busy main road, while also noting it was near the Humber Bridge, a ‘known suicide spot’.

Richard Kimblin KC, for Fairview Hotels (Ipswich) Ltd – which runs the Novotel hotel, accused IBC of a ‘knee jerk’ reaction and said it had ‘wholly failed’ to take an ‘appropriate and proportionate’ approach to the case.

In written submissions, he said the local authority was seeking to use the court ‘to keep any further asylum seekers from the shelter and subsistence which the hotel would provide’.

‘It is tolerably clear that the council does not want those people in its town,’ he added.

He said that because of the council’s legal action 64 rooms, which could accommodate up to 128 people, are empty yet still being paid for.

‘The public purse continues to pay for those rooms which lie empty because that is what the contract provides for,’ he said.

The barrister said the council’s injunction ‘will have a chilling effect on other hotel operators who will see the mess which they may be drawn into and thus decline to assist central Government’.

‘In turn, the supply of hotel accommodation to those who are destitute, would be diminished,’ he added.

He also claimed that the council being granted an injunction ‘would send a message that it is wrong to accommodate those of other nationalities in hotels pending determination of their applications’.

Mr Kimblin argued ‘no material change of use has occurred’ at the hotel, the biggest in Ipswich town centre, adding that there was ‘no breach of planning control’ and ‘no evidence of harm’.

There has recently been overcrowding at the Manston site, which has prompted severe criticism of Home Secretary Suella Braverman

People can be seen inside a containment area inside a migrant processing centre in Manston, where the Home Secretary was criticised due to its overcrowding

Government contractor Serco is currently responsible for 35,646 asylum seekers, of which about 11,200 are being provided with initial accommodation at 84 hotels in different parts of the country 

In court, Mr Kimblin said a question for the judge was ‘whether or not there’s any material difference in accommodating people who happen to have the label asylum seekers as to accommodating German tourists’.

Paul Brown KC, representing Serco in the Ipswich case, said in written arguments that the contractor was required to house asylum seekers on the same day the the Home Office instructs it to, with the number needing accommodation in the UK now at ‘record level’.

He said the Government has faced ‘difficulties’ over such provision – including the ‘overcrowding and condition of facilities’ such as at the Manston processing site in Kent.

Mr Brown said ‘the lives, health and wellbeing of large numbers of people are directly impacted by the lack of space at existing facilities’, including those who had ‘already undergone perilous journeys to escape dangerous conditions in their own countries’.

He said there is a ‘clear and pressing need’ for accommodation such as the Novotel and added that a failure to make suitable provision would put the Home Secretary in breach of her duties.

He argued providing initial short-term accommodation to asylum seekers at the hotel was ‘largely indistinguishable from a block-booking by a tour company’.

Robin Green, for LGH Hotels Management – which manages the Humber View Hotel, said in written submissions that the proposed use of the premises ‘would not involve a material change of use’.

‘Yes, asylum seekers would be accommodated, but the use made of the hotel would not be significantly different if occupied by ‘ordinary’ guests,’ he said.

Mr Green said housing asylum seekers would provide ‘secure income’ for the hotel ‘which has been operating at a loss and is at risk of being mothballed’.

Mears Group, a company involved in the commissioning of the Humber View Hotel for the Home Office, opposed the injunction through William Upton KC, while Mack Residential Limited, a contractor involved in its operation, was unrepresented at Tuesday’s hearing.

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