Proposals to accommodate 300 asylum seekers at Stradey Park Hotel ‘not suitable for a small village like Furnace’ says Nia Griffith MP

Dame Nia Griffith MP has said that the Home Office plans to accommodate over three hundred asylum seekers at the Stradey Park Hotel is unsuitable for a small village like Furnace.

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Report by Dave Hurford and Alan Evans

Speaking at a meeting at the Selwyn Samuel Centre on Sunday May 28th the MP read out an email from the Home Office, which sounded like a fete accompli.

Nia Griffith stressed that it was not the management or employees making decisions but the owners. She said that in spite of efforts she was not making very good progress. ‘I will always fight for residents of Llanelli’, she said.

The MP made a speech in Parliament asking for a meeting over the plans for the Stradey Park Hotel and requesting that the government address the backlog of cases to return immigrants to safe countries..

Robert Jenrick the Minister for Immigration responded by saying: “I’m delighted to hear that the government has chalked up another vote for the illegal migration bill because you cannot have a position where you say you want open borders, unlimited numbers of individuals coming into this country whether legally or illegally but you don’t want them in your own constituency.”

You can hear what the MP had to say here:

Lee Waters MS was absent from the meeting.

Carmarthenshire Council leader, Cllr Darren Price

Darren Price, Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council also spoke at the meeting and said that the Numbers of people attending the meeting  showed concern from people from the local area. He said he was grateful for opportunity to explain the council’s position.

He told the meeting that the Council were contacted a month ago by Clear Springs, a private company  acting on behalf of the Home Office who were tasked with finding accommodation for asylum seekers across the UK. He said that the council had insisted on weekly meetings so concerns and questions could be answered. Mr Price said that the majority of questions remained unanswered.

The Leader also said that a collective including the council the health board and the Police and Crime Commissioner had decided  jointly to bring the matter to the attention of public.

Mr Price said that the week before last Clear Springs recommend the scheme to proceed. He said he Understood that  in excess of 300 people were to be accommodated.

He pointed out that there was an expectation on the council to support children. There were so many unanswered questions and on that basis and numbers the council is objecting he said

Mr Price said the council were not objecting  to asylum seekers per se. ‘To concentrate 300 individuals in a small hotel in the centre of llanelli not he way to support vulnerable people’, he said. Mr Price said that the council were formally setting out concerns and that they could not  contact owners  of the hotel as they were not answering phone calls.

(UPDATED June 2)

Following a meeting between Carmarthenshire County Council officers and the Home Office on 30 May 2023, Council Leader Darren Price has written to the owners of the Stradey Park Hotel, Llanelli urging them to provide an honest answer to the people of Llanelli as to whether they are in discussions with the Home Office regarding the potential use of the hotel to accommodate asylum seekers.

 

Carmarthenshire County Council officers were informed by a Home Office official that the Minister of State (Immigration Minister) in Westminster has given agreement for the use of Stradey Park Hotel to proceed to house asylum seekers, subject to a contract between the hotel owners and Clearsprings, the operator who works on behalf of the Home Office running these sites.

 

To be able to secure a contract with the hotel owners (for the placement of Asylum seekers) the County Council understand that Clearsprings have a range of assessments and work that is yet to be completed, including a fire risk assessment. The use intended by Clearsprings is still for 207 asylum seekers in the hotel rooms and up to 107 emergency provision in communal areas. The County Council are yet to receive any of this information in writing despite repeated requests. Public Sector Partners have also raised concerns regarding health services and have been advised that additional funding for this would be the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

 

The Council is firmly against the Stradey Park Hotel proposal going ahead and are exploring a range of legal routes, including planning, to persuade the Home Office and hotel owners of the unsuitable nature of the site for this purpose.

 

Cllr. Darren Price Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council said: “It is time for the owner of the Stradey Park Hotel, Sterling Woodrow, to come clean about its discussions with the Home Office. I have written to them to demand answers on the future use of the hotel, as the local community of Furnace and Llanelli need answers, as do the staff of the hotel, Carmarthenshire County Council and our range of partners.

 

“Only this week, the Home Office, once again, repeated their intention to use the Stradey Park Hotel as a site for contingency accommodation for in excess of 300 asylum seekers. The hotel owner, Sterling Woodrow, must now be open and honest with the people of Carmarthenshire; yes or no, are they in discussions with the Home Office and, if so, do they intend to proceed with the planned proposal to concentrate a large number of asylum seekers at the hotel?

Listen to what the Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council had to say here:

Neither the Home Office nor the owners of the Stradey Park Hotel attended the meeting or sent any representation.

The following document provides some background to the accommodating of asylum seekers.

Why are asylum seekers housed in hotels?
The Home Office has a statutory duty to provide accommodation for asylum seekers who do not have the means to obtain it themselves and/or do cannot meet their essential living needs. It has contracts with private sector providers to source accommodation on its behalf.

Typically, someone seeking asylum in the UK would first stay in hostel-style ‘initial accommodation’ for a few weeks, before moving into longer-term self-catered accommodation such as shared flats or houses (known as ‘dispersal accommodation’).

The number of asylum seekers requiring accommodation has increased in recent years. Reasons include the growing number of people claiming asylum and the increasing time taken to process applications.

Initial accommodation options are currently at maximum capacity and providers are struggling to procure more longer-term options.

The average stay in short-term sites has also increased, from three weeks to around six months. As a contingency measure, accommodation providers have been block-booking hotels to house asylum seekers.

When is planning permission required?
Planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA) is usually required to “materially” change the use of a building or land. A material change of use occurs when the use of a building or land is varied between “use classes” set out in the Use Classes Order 1987. Hotels fall into use class C1.

Planning permission is also usually needed to change from a use class to an independent (“sui generis”) classification or vice versa. Sui generis uses are not defined in legislation. An example is a hostel.

Accommodation for people seeking asylum is not listed as a use class in the 1987 Order.

The Order also only provides a guide to the types of building or land use which may fall into a class. Whether a material change of use has occurred (and planning permission is required) is for the LPA to determine in the first instance, or the courts in the case of a dispute.

What happens if planning permission is required?
If planning permission is required, the LPA will decide the application in line with its local plan, unless “material considerations” indicate otherwise. It will also consider the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. The LPA will hold a public consultation where local residents can express their views on the application.

What if planning permission is not obtained?
Failure to obtain planning permission where it is required is considered a breach in planning control. It can result in enforcement action by the LPA, the most serious of which is a court injunction.

The Government advises LPAs to “act proportionately” in responding to breaches in planning control.

Is housing asylum seekers in hotels a change of use?
In recent months, some LPAs have sought injunctions against accommodation providers to stop hotels being used to house asylum seekers. They argued this constituted a material change of use of a hotel to a hostel (which would require planning permission). In each case, a judge decided whether to continue the injunctions to trial, where a final decision would be made.

In November 2022, the High Court declined to continue injunctions sought by Ipswich Borough Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

The judge found there were arguments pointing towards and against hostel use, concluding: “the distinction between a hotel and hostel … is [a] fine [one]”. Whether a change of use from hotel from hostel is material, he added, depends on the planning consequences. In these cases, the consequences were “very limited”: the alleged change of use would not alter the buildings, cause environmental damage, or impact the character of the area.

The High Court has also declined to extent interim injunctions by Fenland District Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. It has declined North Northamptonshire Council’s application for an injunction.

However, in January 2023, the High Court decided to continue an injunction preventing the use of a seafront hotel in Great Yarmouth to house asylum seekers.

Great Yarmouth’s local plan includes a policy to protect the seafront because of its importance to the town’s tourism economy. The local plan defines uses that are not permitted on the seafront, including hostels.

The judge also considered the impact of an injunction on asylum seekers and whether the LPA had used other enforcement powers prior to seeking an injunction. Great Yarmouth had issued an enforcement notice in 2006 prohibiting the use of the building as a hostel. The judge noted this was still in force but had not deterred the provider. This supported the use of more serious powers, in this case an injunction.

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Update June 6: The owners of the Stradey Park Hotel have issued the following response:

Thank you for your correspondence and your interest in the Stradey Park Hotel. We are very grateful for the support that Carmarthen Council offer.

We continue to operate as a hotel and take pride in our levels of service. We have not cancelled any wedding bookings.
You are right to identify that we are a major local employer and it is our intention to continue to be so.

One of a number of future options that have become open to us is engagement with Clearsprings Ready-Homes.

Our commitment that we have made absolutely no contractual agreements is extant; there is no ambiguity in this.

This is one option that we are looking at amongst others and it would be inappropriate for you to make any inference about our future intention other than our commitment to ensure that all statutory and mandatory standards are met and that our employees and residents continue to be looked after appropriately.

We do not recognise the suggestion around potential job losses.

Please engage with Clearsprings Ready-Homes around any issues pertaining to asylum seeking since this is their expertise and not ours.’

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