What is to be done with many thousands of migrants who make their way across the Channel in small boats? That question loomed large in the High Court’s refusal to block the use of a market town hotel as accommodation for asylum seekers.
The hotel had been block-booked by a government contractor with a view to easing the well-publicised pressure on the Manston migrant reception centre. The local authority for the area responded by seeking an interim injunction.
In asserting that the relatively deprived and isolated town was unsuitable to receive a substantial influx of asylum seekers, the council pointed out that its public services, including healthcare, schools and policing, were already at full stretch. It expressed particular concern that any asylum seekers who absconded from the hotel would be exposed to a risk of criminal exploitation.
In planning terms, the council argued that the conversion of the premises from a hotel to a hostel amounted to an unauthorised change of use. Having been booked for the exclusive use of asylum seekers, the hotel was no longer contributing to the local economy by providing accommodation for business and tourist guests.
Rejecting the application, however, the Court found that the contractor had advanced respectable arguments that no breach of planning control had occurred. It was not a case in which the use of a hotel would cause environmental damage. It was also not suggested that there would be harm to the character or appearance of the area and no issues had been raised in relation to traffic management.
Taken at face value, the council’s evidence did not demonstrate a serious level of risk to asylum seekers accommodated in the hotel. The planning and welfare factors relied upon by the council did not overcome the substantial weight to be given to the pressing requirement to accommodate asylum seekers in a system that was having to cope with an unprecedented level of need.