Archive for January 2003
January 30, 2003
Plans to convert a former agricultural college into a centre for asylum seekers were today axed by the Home Office. Caythorpe Court, near Sleaford, was earmarked as an emergency asylum centre soon after it was bought by property developer the Angel Group. But the proposal met with fierce opposition from residents of the village and their MP Douglas Hogg. “This is very good news,” said Mr Hogg. “Caythorpe Court is clearly wholly unsuitable for such a purpose and it was resolutely opposed by my constituents. “The suggestion should never have been made and I welcome the fact that the Home Office has backed down.” Earlier this week, Mr Hogg had accused the Home Office of arrogance over the issue, after ministers refused to meet him to discuss the plans. But in a letter to the Sleaford and North Hykeham MP, Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said that Caythorpe did not meet Government requirements for an emergency asylum centre. Ms Hughes told Mr Hogg: “I explained that the National Asylum Support Service was considering using the property for a short period as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers. “We need to be able to obtain accommodation for this purpose quickly. “I made it clear that if a decision were made to use the property, we would expect the Angel Group to obtain planning permission. “This would clearly take some time to achieve and because we need this accommodation quickly, we have decided not to use Caythorpe Court.” Despite these assurances, Ms Hughes did not rule out use of the Victorian estate as an induction centre for asylum seekers in the future. Terry Norman, a spokesman for the Caythorpe Action Group, which has fought the proposals on behalf on the village community, gave today’s news a guarded welcome. He said: “Obviously, we are very happy with the decision but we still want to know what the Angel Group plan to do with the property and we intend to find out. “There are other uses that would be just as bad from a village point of view. “The Caythorpe Action Group will still be going ahead with a meeting tomorrow night to decide what questions we should ask next. We have worked very hard and we will not give up now.” Mr Hogg echoed residents’ concerns, saying that the Home Office had made no guarantee Caythorpe Court would not be used to house asylum seekers in the future. He said: “It would seem as if the Government has not entirely abandoned its thoughts of using Caythorpe as part of a national network of induction centres for asylum seekers. “This decision is welcome in so far as it goes. But local people and I will now make it wholly plain to the Home Office, the Angel Group and the local authorities that there will be resolute opposition to any plan to use Caythorpe Court for the purposes of accommodating asylum seekers or other refugees. “An induction centre would be even less acceptable.”
January 28, 2003
Political extremists have tried to drum up support among villagers campaigning against asylum- seeker centre proposals. Members of the far-right British National Party have posted leaflets through doors in Caythorpe, near Sleaford, following a row over asylum plans. Villagers have been told the former Lincolnshire School of Agriculture at Caythorpe Court is on a shortlist of sites being considered for temporary asylum accommodation. The Caythorpe Action Group, formed to oppose the plan, held a meeting in the village last night. Group leader Terry Norman said the BNP was not welcome to join the campaign. “They are an extremist party and we don’t want anything to do with them,” retired Mr Norman (72), from Caythorpe, said. “We do not want any extremist organisations or racists and we are not going along those lines. “We are just asking that asylum-seekers be housed somewhere more convenient, both for them and the village.” The campaign leader said he had been sent a package from the BNP in Yarmouth containing leaflets and newspapers. But Mr Norman said he was about to burn it. “We have nothing and will not have anything to do with this group,” he said. Hundreds of people packed out last night’s meeting to voice concerns about the Government’s proposals – which would be put into action by developer Angel Group. Protest organiser Janet Norman (70) told the meeting: “The number of people who have turned up this evening shows exactly how much support there is. “We have touched a nerve even now with the amount of pressure we have put on the Angel Group. “We’ve got a hell of a fight on our hands but we’re determined, unless we stand up to be counted we will be snowed under.” Resident Derek Welsh added: “The village simply does not have the infrastructure or facilities for this centre. “Caythorpe would be unable to support the 550 asylum-seekers which are intended for the centre, let alone the 400 support staff required to run it.” Fellow protester Phil Turner called for people to write letters to the Government. “We are going to bombard them with letters. This centre will not happen.” Builder Spencer Staff (56) said: “We need to keep it legal or else it could backfire. But if it comes to it we’ll take it all the way.” Angel Group managing director Julia Davey did not attend the meeting. But she sent a message to the campaigners saying the group was a responsible company which would consult parishioners. The action group now plans to meet every Monday at 7.30pm at the Village Hall. What do you think? Write to Your View at Lincolnshire Echo, Brayford Wharf East, Lincoln LN5 7AT. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org One year on, and still no answers … see Page 16.
Newcastle Chronicle & Journal Ltd
January 23, 2003
North Hykeham MP Douglas Hogg says he expects the Home Office to soon reveal once and for all if it intends to turn Caythorpe Court, inCaythorpe, near Sleaford, into a 550-bed facility. The MP, who was due to speak about his opposition to the plans in the House of Commons today, said he and the residents of Caythorpe would have their answer soon. Villagers campaigning against the plan will step up their opposition by holding a public meeting at Caythorpe Village Hall at 7.30pm on Monday. The MP has written to new owner the Angel Group, the national Asylum Seekers’ Support Service and Home Secretary David Blunkett. “I have now spoken to Julia Dave, the managing director of the Angel Group, and to Freida Challoner of the National Asylum Seekers Support Service (NASSS),” said Mr Hogg. “Both say that no final decision has been made. Ms Challoner said she hoped a decision would be made within eight days.” The Echo first revealed that Caythorpe Court was at the centre of a asylum centre bid in December. NASSS has asked a property developer if the Victorian-built estate could be usedas a temporary accommodation facility. Both Mr Hogg, local authority South Kesteven District Council and Caythorpe residents feared that asylum seekers could start arriving at the centre without the permission of local councillors under a legal loophole, it has been revealed. The Angel Group had said it planned to sidestep planning law and turn the formeragricultural college into a facility under existing permission to use the estatefor “educational purposes”. In a letter to Mr Hogg Ms Davey said: “It is my company’s intention that if the property is to be used for accommodating asylum seekers, the nature of the activities which will be undertaken will be such that the use will fall within the existing authorised use for the purposes of the Town and County planning legislation.” The plan to avoid a planning application being made to South Kesteven District Council has also been confirmed by Minister of State Beverley Hughes. Yet Mike Sibthorp, head of South Kesteven District Council’s land use planning department, claims to have received reassurance from the Home Office that the centre is “unlikely” to be wanted as an induction centre. “I was assured that any such proposal would be the subject of full local consultation involving the district council and local villagers,” said Mr Sibthorp. “I was also reassured that, if necessary, a planning application for change of use would be submitted.”
THE JOURNAL (Newcastle, UK)
January 23, 2003, Thursday
The owner of Otterburn Hall in Northumberland said last night there were no plans to use it as a holding centre for newly-arrived asylum seekers. Speculation over the future of the isolated country hotel and conference centre has been re-ignited by reports that hostels, hotels and large houses are to be used to accommodate asylum seekers. Last year people in Otterburn voiced strong protests against moves to use the former YMCA-owned hall to house up to 250 asylum seekers. In May last year Otterburn Hall was taken over by London property company The Angel Group, which accommodates refugees and asylum seekers, and work started on refurbishing it. Angel Group facilities director Jim Vaughan said yesterday: “Otterburn Hall is a hotel, it is currently operating as a hotel and will continue to do so. There is still refurbishment work going on there but it is being used by guests. We have got all sorts of visions to improve it but there are no plans to use it as a centre for asylum seekers.” George Moore, owner of the Border Reiver shop in Otterburn, said: “Local people are still waiting to see exactly what will happen with Otterburn Hall … but it is all just speculation and rumour at the moment.” Ministers have ordered a review of plans for housing newly-arrived asylum seekers after protests from people living near two of the proposed induction centres in Kent and Lincolnshire.
The Times (London)
January 20, 2003, Monday
MINISTERS brushed off furious criticism and threats of legal action yesterday to insist that they are going ahead with plans to hire hotels, hostels and large country homes for asylum-seekers. The buildings will be turned into induction centres where immigrants will spend their first two weeks in Britain after claiming asylum. A deal for the first, the Coniston three-star hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent, has angered town residents because there had been no consultation. And there were protests yesterday in Caythorpe, Lincolnshire, when it was revealed that a property has been bought there for an induction centre. Ministers were accused of using a loophole in building laws to sidestep local opposition. By using properties that already have permission for use as accommodation centres, the Government avoids the need to seek permission for a change of use or for constructing a new building. Residents of Sittingbourne said yesterday that they intend to seek to take the Government to court to stop it using the Coniston for immigrants. The hotel, a detached Victorian mansion, has been taken over by Accommodata. The company has signed a contract with the Government to use it as a home for asylum-seekers. Villagers in Caythorpe invaded the site where Caythorpe Court stands. The Grade II listed building intended as an induction centre for 300 refugees was originally a hunting lodge and has more recently been used as an agricultural college. Terry Norman, 72, who is leading a protest group, said: “What’s going on has transformed our lives. People come here for a quiet life. We fear that will now be lost because there’s nothing for the asylum-seekers to do here.” The property developers, Angel Group, has told the local MP, Douglas Hogg, that its long-term intention is to create a residential estate for owner-occupiers. But in the short term it wants to house asylum-seekers. Accommodata and the Angel Group were both described by the Home Office as “accommodation specialists” who have already been used by the Government to provide homes for refugees. One of the properties on the books of Accommodata is the International Hotel in Leicester which has been the focus of frequent complaints. Asylum-seekers have also protested about the standards they endure there. Accommodata has also been involved in housing immigrants in Manchester, Bolton and Derby. The Angel Group, based in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, reported an annual turnover of Pounds 15 million in the latest published accounts. It is a holding company with four subsidiaries involved in property development and refurbishment, and providing homes and other services to vulnerable groups. In December a Commons debate was prompted by the company’s plans to house 200 refugees opposite Wakefield maximum security prison in a former college. Planning permission was refused but the company won an appeal for a dispersal centre scheme. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said that induction centres formed an essential part of the Government’s battle to process the many asylum-seekers coming to Britain. He accepted that the centres are likely to prove unpopular, at least in the initial phases, but said the Government had a responsibility to respond to national needs. His colleague Beverley Hughes, the Home Office Minister, said the plans for induction centres had been announced in October 2001. “One of the main aims of induction centres is to make sure people can be dispersed away from the South East as quickly as possible,” she said. A Home Office official dismissed suggestions that asylum-seekers will find themselves living in luxury and rejected as “nonsense” suggestions that planning laws had been circumvented. Simon Hughes, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, backed the plans: “The priority must be to process claims fairly and quickly and to look after people decently while this is being done.”
January 20, 2003 Monday
Local Government Chronicle (LGC)
Thousands of asylum-seekers are to be housed in country mansions and former hotels being bought by property firms w… Thousands of asylum-seekers are to be housed in country mansions and former hotels being bought by property firms working for the Home Office, reported The Sunday Times (p1).Home secretary David Blunkett has commissioned 20 accomodation and property companies to find large buildings that have planning permission for use as hostels. The tactic avoids the need to consult local authorities or residents who might delay the government’s plans. The scheme has provoked outrage among people around the new centres.The first, whose sale to Accomodata, the Home Office contractor, will be agreed today, is the three-star Coniston Hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent. About 100 asylum-seekers will be housed there. A similar deal is being done in the village of Caythorpe in Lincolnshire. Caythorpe Lodge, a grade II listed hunting lodge, has been bought by the Angel Group, another contractor.The Home Office refused to reveal the cost of the scheme but confirmed that at least 10 centres were planned.The decision to target buildings that need no planning permission marks a sharp change in tactics by the government. Last year, ministers agreed a system where arrivals would spend two weeks in ‘induction centres’ before moving to ‘accomodation centres’. Those whose asylum claims were refused would be sent to one of six ‘removal centres’.Implementation has been slow, with attempts to open two of the first two accomodation centres – in Bicester, Oxfordshire, and at RAF Newton, near Nottingham – being rejected by local authority planning committees. The appeals are taking months.In contrast, in Sittingbourne the conversion from hotel to induction centre will take a week. As a hotel, the Coniston offered en suite facilities in all its 62 rooms, plus a restaurant.Derek Wyatt, Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, described the plan as a ‘disgrace’. He added: ‘We are seeking a judicial review. There has been no consultation’.
FURY MOUNTS OVER PLANS FOR REFUGEES TO ENJOY LIFE OF LUXURY IN COUNTRY MANSIONS; ASYLUM HOTELS REVOLT
PLANS to house thousands of asylum seekers in mansions and hotels ignited a countrywide revolt yesterday amid fears it could encourage more to flood in. Residents in Kent are seeking a judicial review over proposals to put immigrants in a three-star hotel. A local MP condemned the Home Office plan as “outrageous”. Meanwhile, furious protesters stormed a Grade II listed hunting lodge in Lincolnshire earmarked for 500 new arrivals. One villager said: “It’s dreadful. The face of the British countryside is changing for ever.” Accommodation and property companies have been contracted to find suitable premises for a series of asylum induction centres. The firms involved are said to have been instructed to look for buildings which already have planning permission as hotels to avoid the need to consult local authorities or residents. Last night Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, an independent think-tank, warned: “This is an appalling use of taxpayers’ money and can only encourage a still larger flow of asylum seekers.” The revelation emerged just a few days after the Daily Express revealed that some asylum seekers are to be welcomed with a luxury stay in a former Butlins holiday hotel. Residents living close to the Grand Ocean Hotel in Saltdean, near Brighton, are livid. Twin rooms cost up to GBP 100 a night at the imposing 345-room art deco landmark, which boasts colour televisions in all the rooms, an indoor pool and sauna. Close to beaches, the hotel’s other attractions include landscaped gardens, room service, a beauty salon and live entertainment. Now the Home Office has confirmed that a contract has been awarded to property company Accomodata to provide 111 places at the three-star Coniston Hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent. The GBP 65-a-night hotel boasts 62 ensuite bedrooms with cable TV and is regularly used for wedding receptions and other functions. It has a ballroom with chandeliers, two bars and a restaurant. Angry locals are to seek a judicial review. These take place when a public body is deemed to have acted improperly or not in the public interest. A demonstration was held by furious locals. Robert Wrigley, 44, a maintenance engineer, collected 2,500 signatures on a petition asking the Government to think again. He said: “I believe people have a right to be asked about this, not to have the Government say it is coming and we can do nothing. Tony Blair and his Government are treating this like it is a dictatorship. People have cancelled weddings at that hotel because of this.” Stephen Singer, 37, a father of three, said: “We have only got one hotel in this town and it is going to be a doss house.” The Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Derek Wyatt, branded the Home Office’s tactics as “outrageous”. He said the hotel’s owner believed he was selling it to another operator only to discover it was being sold on to Accomodata. “This is our finest hotel so you can imagine how this has gone down locally – weddings cancelled, ballet lessons cancelled, Rotary lunches cancelled. There has been no consultation. It has all been done in secret.” He added that Kent could no longer cope with the numbers of asylum seekers arriving. “We need a two-year moratorium. We can’t take any more, ” he said. Another contractor, the Angel Group, has a deal similar to Accomodata. The company has acquired Caythorpe Court, a Grade II listed hunting lodge in Caythorpe, Lincs, for use as an asylum centre. Villagers yesterday invaded the proposed site saying they could no longer stand idly by when their lives were in danger of being turned upside down. One of them, Janet Norman, 69, said: “This is going to change the face of the British countryside for ever. Home Office plans will destroy us. There is no work for asylum seekers.” She said the village had one shop, a post office, a hairdresser and a doctor, adding: “We are a community of only 1,500 people. “How are we going to cope with an influx of 500 asylum seekers? We invaded the grounds today and were turned back by security men. They ordered us to leave and photographed us.” Protester Philip Turner, 55, a former transport consultant, said villagers were not prepared to accept the controversial scheme. He said: “People still leave their doors open around here. Societies like this do still exist.” Retired engineer Terry Norman, 72, co-ordinator of protest group Caythorpe In Action, added: “An Englishman’s home used to be his castle, but the feeling in the village now is that soon it’s going to be his prison.” Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes said the plans had been “outlined” by ministers in October, 2001. “The Coniston Hotel would be one of a number of hotels used to accommodate asylum seekers on a temporary basis in the London area before they are moved on to accommodation centres or dispersed outside the Southeast, ” she said in a statement. “The Government recognises that areas such as Kent already play a large part in supporting asylum seekers and one of the main aims of induction centres is to make sure people can be dispersed away from the South-east as quickly as possible.”