UPDATE RE HIGHGATE HOUSE – 10.02.2023 with addendum
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https://creaton.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Highgate-House-scaled.jpg 1707 2560 Clerk https://creaton.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/creaton-parish-council-logo.png Clerk2023-03-27 15:11:232023-03-27 15:12:09UPDATE RE HIGHGATE HOUSE – 10.02.2023 with addendum
UPDATE RE HIGHGATE HOUSE – 10.02.2023
We thought it sensible to update the community on the future use of Highgate House. As you know, the Home Office decision to use Highgate House to accommodate asylum seekers was reversed on 13 January 2023 following representations from the community, Christopher Heaton Harris MP, WNC and our legal challenge.
The Signature Group Limited, supported it seems by the Sundial Group, have belatedly produced and circulated a presentation which purport to make the case that contrary to the views expressed at public meetings, letters and legal representations, Highgate House is nonetheless a suitable location for upto 600 asylum seekers (up from 400 previously). It refers to a phased increase in numbers accommodated from c.200 up to 600 in the final third phase.
The document appears to be intended for use by the Home Office. The presentation asserts that in fact “Looking at the locality of Local Services to Highgate House, in support of longer term solutions we have found the area to be well supported, and feel the campaign did not represent a true reflection of the situation.” The presentation maintains that with the presence of GP surgeries, schools, parks and hospitals within a 15 mile radius there is adequate local service provision to support HH’s use as accommodation for asylum seekers.
The presentation is unsigned, undated and contains no information as to who controls Signature.
In our view, the Signature analysis of the impact of 600 asylum seekers on the community presented by the presentation is shallow and self-serving. It is significant that it was only produced after the HO reversed its decision to use HH to accommodate asylum seekers at HH. The brochure is thus a reaction to the loss of profit occasioned by the HO decision not to use HH, as opposed to a genuine and thorough attempt to consider the suitability of HH before any investment were made. Even now, there is no assessment whatsoever of what impact this number of asylum seekers would have on existing local services.
For example, there is no consideration of how local GP surgeries would cope with 600 new patients or how local schools with an influx of students who did not speak English as a first language and with diverse various educational needs. The existing needs of the community, and the extent to which the use of HH for asylum seekers would undermine existing service levels, is completely ignored by Signature. There is no assessment of the impact on local planning controls and the obvious change from hotel to hostel.
The presentation does not take account of the experience of faith groups working with asylum seekers who have contacted us to explain that in their view, HH is unsuitable. WNC counsellors are said to be supportive of Signature, when we know this is not the case. There is no offer to invest in local schooling or NHS facilities to off-set the extra demand created at HH and no attempt to consider inadequate shopping and retail facilities.
In short, Signature (and Sundial) does not recognise that their proposal will lead to significant private benefit for their companies but with all the risk being passed on to the community.
The HO has reassured us today (9 February) that they have no plans to use HH for asylum seekers but if their plans change, there will be a full consultation with the local community first to understand the implications of any such proposal.
It may be that Signature (and Sundial) consider that if they make purport to accommodate a smaller number of asylum seekers at HH, then their approach to the HO will be more attractive. We do not agree.
Signature have made it very clear their intention is to house upto 600 at HH. From their perspective, the more persons housed at HH, the greater the fees from the HO. The opportunity for greater profits means that it is highly likely that if HH is used to house even a dozen asylum seekers, Signature (and Sundial) will then argue that the principle of a change of use has been established and more can follow.
HH would not be sustainable investment for Signature, unless the numbers of asylum seekers are measured in their hundreds as their own presentation concedes.
In our view, the Signature presentation does not alter the unsuitability of HH for asylum seeker accommodation.
On 20 January the HO replied to our judicial review action saying that given the HO has reversed its decision to use HH, there is nothing to challenge. We agree.
However, we have also made it clear to the HO that there are no foreseeable circumstances in which we can see HH being suitable for this purpose. This is the case irrespective of the numbers of persons housed. The Signature/Sundial presentation, produced for commercial gain, does nothing to change that. We have made this very clear to the HO.
In our view, given the HO’s change of policy, it does seem unlikely that Signature/Sundial will be able to persuade the HO to change its mind again on the use of HH in the short-term. If that does seem possible, then recent events have already shown we are not powerless to prevent changes to HH which are obviously detrimental to the community.
We hope we can continue to count on your support if Signature/Sundial do seek to move ahead with their proposal, despite our concerns and the recent and welcome decision of the HO.
Creaton Parish Council and Cottesbrooke Village Meeting
We were pleased Tim Chudley, representing the Sundial Group, attended the Parish Council Committee meeting on Tuesday 21 February 2023.
Tim explained that he was very concerned that the Parish Council should not identify the Sundial Group with Signature. He said that this was unfair and Sundial was suffering reputational damage.
Tim emphasised that Sundial and Signature’s shared interest extended only until the sale and purchase of Highgate House was completed. He said that once HH was sold, its use was a matter for Signature and not Sundial. Tim also said he had visited Signature’s premises for asylum seekers at the Dunchurch Hotel.
There was then a discussion and Tim left before the meeting was concluded. Seeking to be entirely fair to Tim and Sundial, and conscious no one from Sundial attended the previous Parish meetings arising from the planned use of HH for asylum seekers in December and January, we agreed to summarise Tim’s concerns on the Parish website and Facebook. That we have now done.