East Lindsey District Council has formally submitted a pre-action letter to the Home Office, indicating it is considering pursuing a Judicial Review to prevent the Home Office from continuing to promote the unlawful use of hotels in Skegness as hostels for those seeking asylum.
The Council’s letter argues the Home Office has persistently, repeatedly and unlawfully encouraged and procured breaches of planning control by instructing SERCO Group Plc, to purchase hotel accommodation in Skegness for those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
The Council’s case is that the use the Home Office is encouraging is a material change of use which requires planning permission, which has not been applied for or obtained.
The letter states: “Those unauthorised changes of use have caused substantial harm.”
The Council, while monitoring successful legal action obtained by Great Yarmouth Borough Council, has been trying to seek an assurance from the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman MP, and the Minister of State for Immigration, Robert Jenrick MP, that the Home Office will not procure the use of any more hotels as hostels for asylum seekers in Skegness or East Lindsey as a whole.
Both have failed to give those assurances and now the Council has taken the first step towards officially seeking legal action to prevent further harm.
The Council says that any more changes of use of this kind should be subject to an application for planning permission.
To date, five hotels in the prime tourist area of Skegness have been procured for hostel use without the grant of planning permission.
The harm that has been caused by the Home Office’s policy is to deplete Skegness’s stock of hotel accommodation for tourists and harm its reputation as a family resort.
The harm that has been, and will continue to be, caused to Skegness’s hotel sector and its tourism economy more generally directly conflicts with the policy SP19 of the adopted Local Plan for Coastal East Lindsey, which specifically aims to boost tourism and restrict the loss of hotels to other uses.
In addition, the Home Office’s failure to consult with the Council and its partners has placed a substantial and potentially unsustainable burden on providers of primary healthcare in Skegness as well as beginning to undermine social cohesion.
Cllr Craig Leyland, Leader of East Lindsey District Council, said: “Skegness is the fourth most visited coastal resort in the UK. It depends on maintaining a thriving tourism economy driven by holidaymakers and people who choose to holiday in the town and on day trippers.
“The unlawful use of hotels as hostels, which goes against planning policy, is depleting the supply of accommodation on offer for tourists and this use is not helping our reputation as a family holiday resort which is a vital part of the local economy.
“We understand the national pressures faced by the Home Office in finding suitable accommodation for those seeking asylum in the UK but we call for a halt to the procurement of any more hotels in Skegness and wider East Lindsey.
“This pre-action letter indicates the Council’s intentions to seek a Judicial Review if the Home Office will not agree to stop purchasing more hotels for hostel use unless it is authorised by the grant of planning permission.”
Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, said: “I have repeatedly urged the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister to end the use of tourist hotels in Skegness to accommodate people seeking asylum. As I said recently at a public meeting in Skegness, it is unacceptable and wholly inappropriate.
I have been clear throughout on my three ‘asks’ of Government – deter people from making journeys across the channel in the first place, process people more quickly and look at alternative forms of accommodation to the inappropriate use of hotels needed for tourism.
Britain is an immensely compassionate country but we need to address the issue of asylum seekers coming in such numbers. It’s right that we’re now working more closely with France to stop people making perilous voyages. It’s right that we are imposing tougher penalties for the criminal people smugglers who exploit the vulnerable, including life imprisonment. It’s right that we have done a new deal with Albania to make sure we return those from that country who do not qualify as rapidly as possible.
I will continue to press the point that these hotels are needed to support our local tourism economy and offer my full support to ELDC in bringing this legal challenge.”
The Secretary of State will now have time to consider East Lindsey District Council’s letter which calls for the Home Office to engage with the Council to agree a resolution as an alternative to a claim for Judicial Review.