‘No alternative’ but to use Blackpool Britannia Metropole hotel as asylum seeker shelter

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Blackpool Council is fighting plans to use the Metropole Hotel to house asylum seekers

 

Metropole Hotel, Blackpool
Metropole Hotel, Blackpool (Image: LancsLive)

Bosses at the firm tasked with housing asylum seekers in the UK have revealed why they have “no alternative” but to house people in a Blackpool hotel.

Last week Blackpool Council put a halt to plans to house asylum seekers in the Metropole Hotel on the Promenade and warned bosses at Britannia Hotels, which owns the venue, that planning permission would be required in order to house asylum seekers at the hotel.

The hotel was set to act as a temporary home for 324 asylum seekers but the council said permission would be needed to use the hotel as a house in multiple occupation.

Council leader Lynn Williams said the local authority had no choice but to take action and issue the warning after she claimed the Home Office refused to give out information about the conditions asylum seekers would be living in.

The Home Office has revealed that the UK offered protection, in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement, to 10,725 people (including their dependants) in the year ending June 2021.

The number of people offered asylum in the year ending June 2021 decreased by 37 per cent from the previous year. This fall is due to fewer initial decisions being made on asylum applications (13,929 decisions compared with 18,239 in the previous year), as well as the pause to resettlement activity between March and November 2020, both impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Serco, which provides accommodation for asylum seekers on behalf of the Government, said that using hotels to house asylum seekers was a “last resort”.

Jenni Halliday, Serco’s Contract Director for Asylum Accommodation Services, told LancsLive: “With the significant increases in the number of people arriving in the UK we have been faced with no alternative but to temporarily accommodate some asylum seekers in hotels.

“These hotels are only used as a last resort but as a provider of accommodation services on behalf of the Home Office we have a responsibility to find accommodation for the asylum seekers that are being placed in our care.

“The Serco team is working extremely hard to move people into dispersed social housing as rapidly as possible.”

Blackpool Council leader Cllr Williams said the Home Office and Serco had been unable to allay concerns from the council, police, fire and ambulance authorities.

She said last week: “Our concerns escalated following further meetings with the Home Office and Serco.

“We are not to be provided with any of the risk assessments that have been undertaken despite asking repeatedly for them to allay these concerns. Yesterday we gave notice to the Metropole and its owners that using the Metropole to house asylum seekers constitutes to a material change of use and planning permission is required before they proceed.

“If they do proceed we will issue a temporary stop notice immediately, which means if they continue to provide accommodation that is unlawful. This is a closure of a large hotel and conversion to a hostel and that requires planning consent.

“The government knows the problems we have here with HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) and hostels and the impact on Blackpool, and yet we are expected to accept a very large HMO in the centre of Blackpool which is one of the most deprived areas of the country.”

Britannia Metropole Hotel in Blackpool
Britannia Metropole Hotel in Blackpool

Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service has now provided a response to LancsLive about their concerns.

Blackpool Council said there was no update on the issue while Lancashire Police confirmed that the issue was being council-led.

Mark Hutton, Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service’s head of prevention and protection, area manager, said: “Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has been working with partner organisations since becoming aware of the plans to home asylum seekers in the Metropole Hotel, Blackpool.

“As the enforcing authority for the Fire Safety Order, the service uses nationally recognised guidance, enforcement management and assessment tools when undertaking fire safety inspections.

“The service cannot discuss such matters publicly until the threshold for enforcement action has been reached and the requirement to provide a public register of the enforcement has been met.

“Fire safety standards at the Metropole Hotel, and every hotel in the resort, have been and are regularly reviewed. Appropriate action will be taken if, and when, required.”