GROUPS of up to 55 asylum seekers will start arriving at a hotel on the outskirts of Llanelli from July 10, the leader of Carmarthenshire Council has said.
Cllr Darren Price said the Stradey Park Hotel and Spa would house a total of 241 asylum seekers, and that their demographic make-up wouldn’t be known until 24 hours before their arrival.
The proposed use of the popular four-star hotel in Furnace by the Home Office has caused consternation locally, with residents and councillors decrying what they claimed had been a lack of engagement and information from the Home Office, which is behind the plan, and the venue’s Essex-based owners, Sterling Woodrow.
The Home Office said it was trying to cut its £6 million per day asylum seeker hotel bill by accommodating larger groups in individual locations.
Addressing a meeting of full council, Cllr Price said he felt it was “disgraceful” for the Home Office to push on with its “unwise move”. The proposed use of the hotel was, he said, “completely inappropriate”.
The Plaid Cymru leader claimed the Conservative UK Government “has lost complete control” of the asylum seeker situation, with more than 160,000 applications waiting to be dealt with.
An asylum seeker is someone who has left their home country because they face persecution, war or violence. They generally can’t work until their case has been decided. If their claim is successful they receive refugee status. Asylum seekers will be free to leave the hotel during the day and will receive small cash payments, where eligible, for essentials.
Cllr Price said the Home Office was “telling us what’s going to happen without listening to our concerns”. Engagement from Clearsprings Ready Homes – the department’s accommodation contractor – was, he said, “disappointing”.
Cllr Price said the council was not opposed to supporting asylum seekers and refugees and that it had a good track record on this front with a dispersed model of accommodation. “We are keen to continue to accept our share of asylum seekers,” he said.
Cllr Price said he genuinely felt for people whose wedding plans at the Stradey Park Hotel had been thrown into doubt, and that he was concerned about the impact on hotel employees. In his opinion, the approach of the venue’s owners was “unforgivable” after years of local support.
Documents suggest that Sterling Woodrow leases the individual 77 rooms to UK and overseas investors, including one with an address in Russia. That prompted a question by Llanelli MP Nia Griffith to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in the House of Commons last week, given the UK’s current sanctions on Russia.
Cllr Price said the council would continue to explore legal and planning avenues to try to block the Home Office plan, and provide updates when possible.
There has been a well-attended public meeting about the hotel proposal, a separate meeting of churches, charities, political parties and other groups, a protest and counter-protest, and the appearance of boulders outside the hotel.
Furnace resident Clive Hocking said earlier this month that the issue had attracted groups from outside the area with particular agendas, which worried him.
Mr Hocking said he didn’t think it was appropriate “to have people suddenly dumped” in a community with limited resources, but also felt there was an obligation to at least consider helping people “whose situations are shocking”.
Asked to comment on the hotel numbers and arrival date provided by Cllr Price, a Home Office spokesman forwarded a response it has issued throughout the controversy.
“We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day,” he said.
“We engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation and work to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people. “
He added: “We are working closely to listen to the local communities’ views and reduce the impact of sites, including through providing on-site security and financial support.”