No asylum: Council’s high court injunction against asylum hotel criticised
The decision by Cllr Jason Smithers to use taxpayer cash to take legal action against the Home Office is being criticised
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By Sarah Ward
“There are so many decisions that seem to be made behind closed doors and without appropriate consultation, which makes it very hard to assist the council or to feed into decision making.” Kettering Green Alliance Leader Emily Fedorowycz
In a media release issued late on Friday afternoon, Cllr Jason Smithers, the Conservative leader of North Northamptonshire Council announced the authority had applied to the high court to take out an interim injunction against a Home Office plan to house asylum seekers in Kettering’s Royal Hotel.
His statement said the authority had been informed early last week the hotel in the centre of Kettering would be used to accommodate asylum seekers and that on Thursday it had been given a ‘mobilisation date’ at which point the authority decided to take legal steps to stop the move. The injunction route follows similar actions by a number of other local authorities including Ipswich and East Yorkshire.
“North Northamptonshire Council takes its responsibility to asylum seekers very seriously,” his statement said.
“The council has previously offered to have discussions with the Home Office to help identify suitable hotels in the area.
“However, the Royal Hotel in Kettering is not an appropriate place to accommodate asylum seekers for a number of reasons. We do not feel the proposals have been properly considered to ensure the best possible service can be provided to asylum seekers and the local communities in which they are housed. I felt it was important to take action which was a decision we have not taken lightly.”
We put some further questions to Cllr Smithers on Friday but he has not responded and beyond this media statement has not said anything else publicly. (He has however retweeted an interview about Albanian migrants by his close political ally Wellingborough MP Peter Bone).
The news came as a complete surprise to councillors outside of the Conservative group, who were not consulted on the legal action (unlike in the initial days of the authority when the authority was being sued for millions by pub landlord Geoff Monks).
This lack of involvement from the wider council on such an important issue has caused anger.
One opposition councillor told NN Journal on Friday afternoon.
“I think the news has caught us all by surprise. Apparently a group of immigrants were already on their way and almost in Kettering when the hotel operators heard they were not allowed to accommodate them. That is inhuman. These poor people should have their applications assessed within a couple of weeks of their arrival. Now we suddenly have a huge number of people treated like animals and that cannot be right. But once again decisions were made and taxpayers money spent on lawyers, without any cross party consultation.”
Cllr Emily Fedorowycz, who is leader of the Green party on the council and former chair of charity Kettering Refugee Assistance said,
“The Home Office’s treatment of asylum seekers has been outrageous. We can only imagine what horrors these people have seen as they have fled instability, conflict and war and are now being thrust around the country in a desperate bid to reduce the appalling conditions they have been met with.
“The Home Office is trying to push these vulnerable people to one of our local hotels without consulting the council, and then in the same way, a handful of Conservative councillors have reacted without consulting the rest of the council. There are so many decisions that seem to be made behind closed doors and without appropriate consultation, which makes it very hard to assist the council or to feed into decision making.”
“I appreciate that some decisions have to be made quickly but two phone calls to the leaders of the minority political groups would have sufficed.”
The decision comes amid increasing talk in local political circles that Cllr Smithers executive (made up largely of councillors from Wellingborough and East Northants and including the partner of Wellingborough MP Peter Bone and an employee of Corby MP Tom Pursglove), is not listening to the wider Conservative group which sits on the council and is ignoring the public. An additional charge for green waste collection was recently voted through in spite of more than 9,000 residents taking part in consultation, with the vast majority saying they did not want the council to bring in the new levy.
What happens now?
The authority has not given any details of the legal action or how much it has cost, but if it has followed the path of other local authorities, it may have objected on planning grounds. However it may not defeat the Home Office. Last Thursday Stoke-on-Trent City Council lost a bid to stop a hotel in its area, with a high court judge saying its claim was weak.
The decision to stop the Kettering hotel scheme, comes following a plan to set up a contingency hotel for asylum seekers at a Best Western hotel in Corby was ditched in the summer after the home office performed a u-turn, seemingly after a public backlash.
The use of the hotel was revealed by the Northants Telegraph, yet exactly what led to the about turn is somewhat of a mystery. Two days after the hotel plan was made public it was scrapped with council chief executive Rob Bridge saying he had received an email from the Home Office saying it had not been able to secure the hotel and had provided no other details.
However, Corby’s MP Tom Pursglove, who was a Home Office minister for a number of months until Rishi Sunak became PM, and at one stage was responsible for tackling illegal migration, said he had not been involved in any decisions about the hotel as it was not part of his remit.
A statement issued by him said:
“I, like local people, do not wish to see emergency asylum hotel accommodation being stood-up in communities such as ours and I will continue to support a Government that is putting into action a credible plan to stop it being necessary and to close the hotels.”
The Home Office’s mishandling of the processing of asylum applications has been laid bare in recent weeks. It has now become clear that the Home Office has not been processing asylum claims quickly enough, which has led to the need for hotels that are costing several millions of pounds each week. So far this year almost 40,000 people have crossed the English Channel in small boats.
This week the new home secretary Suella Braverman has admitted the system, which has been under Conservative rule for the past decade, is broken.
She was also heavily criticised for using the term ‘invasion’ to describe those arriving in the country to claim asylum, with groups saying her language was dangerous and dehumanising.
The Manston camp in Kent, where thousands of people who have arrived on the Kent coast in small boats are being detained for as long as several weeks, has also been labelled as a disgrace to the country.