The decision to house asylum seekers – who continue to sail across the Channel in their hundreds – in a prominent seafront hotel was described as a “panic measure” and “disproportionate and damaging” by the resort’s two Tory MPs, who yesterday rounded on their own Government.
There had been rumours the Metropole, which sits just yards from North Pier and Blackpool’s war memorial, would be used to house refugees fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, with a worker at the Victorian venue – the only hotel in Blackpool to be on the seaward side of the Prom – saying it would not be accepting bookings for the next three months.
But it will actually house 223 migrants arriving in the country by boat, sparking fears over security, their safety, and the strain on public services.
Council leader Lynn Williams accused the Home Office of presenting the resort with a fait accompli and refusing to listen to reason or answer basic questions.
Scott Benton and Paul Maynard have criticised their own Government for placing asylum seekers in Blackpool
Scott Benton, MP for Blackpool South, and Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, also spoke out against the move as Whitehall bigwigs and hotel managers stayed silent.
Coun Williams said the council, police, and health leaders had all come out fighting, questioning why vulnerable people were being put up in such a high profile tourist location during the Illuminations without proper talks.
She accused the Government of failing to understand the town by ferrying hundreds of migrants to the Fylde coast just days after the Lights were switched on – and housing them a stone’s throw from the nightlife of Queen Street, North Pier, and the Tower.
“We’ve tried to make sense of this with the Home Office and raised numerous questions about how they arrived at this decision,”
223 asylum seekers will be housed in the Metropole Hotel on the Promenade
Coun Williams said. “Most of these questions have fallen on deaf ears. We fully understand the pressures that the Government is facing in terms of the numbers of asylum-seekers crossing the Channel but, at the same time, the Home Office needs to understand that it cannot place people simply because it has a marriage of convenience with certain hotel operators.
“As a local authority, we are enormously sympathetic to the plight of refugees and are working with Lancashire to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees, but this is a very different situation.
“Such placements can only be made if there has been a thorough risk assessment undertaken as well as consultation with those agencies that will have to provide assistance for people who are in need of high levels of support.
“Given that the Home Office has avoided most of the questions we have asked, we have no details of where these 223 asylum-seekers are from, what specific needs they might have and how long they are going to be placed in temporary accommodation in the middle of one of our main tourism areas.”
Coun Williams said the relationship between the Home Office and Britannia Hotels, which runs the Metropole as well as the Blackpool Grand, Norbreck Castle, and the Savoy Hotel, is a “marriage of convenience”.
Staff at the Metropole declined to comment when a reporter visited the hotel – instead giving a number for Britannia’s head office, which did not comment.
In a similarly damning indictment of the Home Office, Mr Maynard said using the Metropole would be “deeply, deeply inappropriate” and branded it a “short-sighted panic measure which shows no concern for either refugees or local people”.
He said: “While we will always seek as a community to be welcoming to those in greatest need, a group of this size, placed in what is already one of the most deprived wards in the country, places a strain on the local community and services which already face immense challenges, and does not help the refugees in any way either.
“I have made clear that the Metropole is a deeply, deeply inappropriate choice of accommodation, no matter how short the duration of the stay.
“I had lengthy and forceful discussions with the relevant minister and am only disappointed he did not see fit to listen to my warnings.
“I will continue to urge ministers to move these individuals on to more sustainable settings urgently.”
Mr Benton added: “I have extremely strong reservations about this decision, especially in the heart of Blackpool.
“I have spent the past two weeks expressing these concerns robustly to ministers and I will continue to do so.
“Unfortunately, the level of illegal immigration is completely out of control and unacceptable.
“I fear that the burden of housing these asylum seekers has fallen disproportionately on northern towns like Blackpool whose public services are already stretched by high levels of deprivation and the impact of Covid-19.
“The introduction of 220 people with complex needs into Blackpool is of great concern, especially without proper risk assessments in place.
“I also believe using the Metropole hotel, in the heart of Blackpool’s tourism area, is unsuitable for such a large number of vulnerable people, especially during the Illuminations.
“Sadly, the Home Office has not provided sufficient consultation and is not taking residents’ views into account.
“I am aware that the decision has come about despite opposition from myself, the council and the Police.
“We have been left in the dark on several important questions including where these people came from and how long they will require temporary accommodation, important questions that need answering. In the meantime, I will continue to make it clear to ministers that this decision is disproportionate and damaging for Blackpool.”
The Home Office did not respond to a request for a comment.
Migrants continue to cross the English Channel, the day after hundreds were brought ashore in Kent.
Between 740 and 750 are believed to have arrived in the UK yesterday after making the trip from France in small boats, The Gazette understands.
Among them were several young children and a baby.
If confirmed, this could account for the second highest daily total of the year, following the single-day record of 828 people set last month.
Eye witnesses this morning reported boats arriving in Dover while the RNLI was seen towing another ashore further east in Kingsdown.
It comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to discuss the matter with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin, at the three-day G7 interior ministers’ meeting in London.
Earlier this year they announced an agreement to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches.
It was the second pledge of its kind in a year, in a bid to prevent illegal migration and stop small boats from leaving France.
As part of the deal, the Government pledged to give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.
Ms Patel has since told MPs she is prepared to withhold the promised funds unless there is an improvement in the number of migrants intercepted by French authorities, Government sources confirmed.
It is understood that none of the money has been paid so far.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said UK and French officials were “working on the implementation” of the deal and that “significant” funding provided in November had already led to increased patrols and “enhanced” intelligence”.
He added: “Following a long period of poor weather, we have seen an increase in crossings as criminal gangs seek to exploit the improved sea conditions.
“This is still extremely dangerous. We remain determined to fix the broken asylum system and break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk, and welcome people through safe and legal routes.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called for the Government to focus on finding a “workable solution with the French authorities, tackling vile people-smuggling gangs and properly managing safe routes to prevent people risking their lives”.
At least 12,500 people have now made the crossing to the UK in 2021, according to data compiled by PA.
The perilous journey across the busy Dover Strait shipping lanes which separate Britain from the continent has claimed several lives, including that of a man from Eritrea last month.
The 27-year-old died after he and four other people jumped overboard as their boat started to sink as they tried to reach Britain.
The Home Office has repeatedly vowed to make the route “unviable”, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting that Ms Patel is “working around the clock” to address the matter.