PRESS RELEASE – 12.01.2023
Thank you again to the 200 villagers who attended the meeting on Tuesday 11 January at Creaton Village Hall from Creaton and neighbouring villages to discuss the Home Office (“HO”) plans to authorise Serco to use Highgate House (“HH”) as accommodation for asylum seekers. This note is an update on developments since then.
We discussed on Tuesday the Judicial Review of the HO decision. We explained letters have been sent from Creaton, Cottesbrooke and WNC pursuant to a legal process known as a “Pre-Action Protocol.” This is an exchange of letters between both sides in a possible Judicial Review claim whereby information is passed from one side to the other (i.e., the HO to Creaton and Cottesbrooke) so that the merits of any claim for Judicial Review can then be assessed on the basis of the information provided. It also enables both sides to see if a resolution is possible before beginning litigation. The HO is legally obliged to answer the questions we have asked.
In practical terms, the HO response to our pre-action letters should also provide us with information concerning the numbers planned for HH, their origin, family profile and how long the HO intends to use HH for this purpose.
Understandably, we have been asked by some villagers to share these letters. For legal reasons, we have been advised not to publish them at least whilst we are waiting for a Home Office to reply. This should come by 20 January.
We have asked the HO to provide comprehensive information concerning their assessment of the suitability of Creaton and its neighbouring villages to support the proposed use of Highgate House for asylum seekers. Once we have this, we will consider commencing Judicial Review and other proceedings. For the reason expanded at our meeting on Tuesday, we are concerned that the decision to use HH as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers fails completely to consider the lack of suitable amenities in the community including the NHS, local education, highways, local leisure facilities and policing. For these reasons we consider the use of HH for this by HO is unreasonable and unlawful. It may also amount to a material change of use of HH from hotel to hostel, which requires change of use planning
Other challenges to contingency planning around the UK
We are also monitoring similar actions being taken around the UK by other local authorities. Great Yarmouth succeeded on 22 December 2022 in obtaining an injunction to prevent the HO housing asylum seekers in their town arguing that what was proposed amounted to a change from hotels to hostels and in the context of Great Yarmouth planning policy, the change was a “material” change requiring planning consent. The injunction is in place to prevent the HO housing asylum seekers in Great Yarmouth whilst the High Court finds time to hear Great Yarmouth’s judicial review of the HO decision.
Skegness appear to be following a similar route to Great Yarmouth.
Other local authorities have applied for injunctions on the basis of a change of use of property needed planning consent and have not been so successful. The prospects seem of legal challenge do seem to depend on the particular circumstances of the town or area where the asylum seekers are to be housed.
In the meantime, we have been advised by our MP that there has been a further delay in Highgate House “going live”. No asylum seekers are expected this week. The MP has also re-opened his consultation portal for further comments. Please contribute to this debate if you can. There is absolutely no guarantee of success, and we are volunteers. It is important we maintain legal and political pressure on the HO to re-consider its plans for HH. We have been told by our MP to expect more information from the Home Office next week.
HH not suitable from the perspective of asylum seekers
Since our meeting on Tuesday, we have been contacted by a local faith-based group providing compassionate services to other asylum seekers in Northamptonshire. They have emphasised that in their experience, HH would not be a suitable venue for asylum seekers from the perspective of the immigrants themselves, as well as the community. There simply aren’t the resources in the area to support them. This confirms the view of the meeting on Tuesday.
Signature Group Hotels Limited
As discussed on Tuesday, we are concerned as to the financial standing and suitability of Signature Group who are buying HH for this purpose. Publicly available Company House records show many company officers have resigned and the beneficial ownership and true control of Signature does not seem to be clear. We are concerned Signature may not be a suitable partner for Serco and the HO to receive public funds and have a role in the management of vulnerable persons. We have drawn this to the attention of the HO and investigations continue. The benefit from using HH in this way seems to be all private, whilst all the risks are passed onto the community.
We will endeavour to pursue all legal and political avenues open to the community to prevent the wholly unsuitable use of Highgate House as a hotel or hostel for asylum seekers. Thank you WNC, Christopher Heaton Harris MP and other volunteers who are supporting this work.
Creaton Parish Council