GOVERNMENT AVOIDS PLANNING LAWS BY BUYING HOTELS FOR ASYLUM-SEEKERS
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’.