Student accommodation at former uni campus in Broadstairs contracted out to house people seeking asylum

The former student accommodation at the ex-campus in Broadstairs

Former student accommodation on the ex-Canterbury Christ Church University site in Broadstairs is being used for people seeking asylum.

Some 30 people have moved in to the 86 room site which is being operated by Clearsprings Ready Homes which has a 10-year contract to manage asylum seeker accommodation in England and Wales.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay says he contacted the Minister last night (November 4) to clarify the situation.

Craig Mackinlay in Parliament

He said: “The Minister said it is not directly contracted by the Home Office. There are government contracts with a number of agencies such as Serco and Clearsprings which find potential accommodation.

“Clearsprings located this site from the new owners and there are 30 migrants on site now who it seems have been moved from Hemel Hempstead.

“There are 86 rooms and the site is meant to be filled up over the weekend. Those so far are all single men.

“It is not the best situation, it is sited 150 yards from a school  and Thanet council was completely unaware of this. However, they  have doubts about the planning status of the building for use in such a way and that is something they will be pursuing.

“People shout about Manston not being what it should be but that was an unusual weekend with crossings and the fire bombing in Dover. People also don’t want accommodation in their back yard so it is being between a rock and a hard place.

“I don’t like the location, I don’t think it is ideal for this.”

The Northwood Court site, on the corner of Northwood Road, has a total of 86 en-suite bedrooms and a number of shared dining room and kitchen facilities. It is privately owned after Christ Church University put the campus up for sale as two lots, the campus comprising one lot and the accommodation the second lot.

Accommodation is being procured by the Home Office to alleviate issues of overcrowding at processing centres including Manston. North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said earlier this week he is confident Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick will “get a handle” on the situation.

People go to Manston centre for “processing” after arriving in the UK via small boat Channel crossings. This is supposed to take 24-48 hours but many, including women and children, have been at the site for weeks. Facilities at the centre are not designed for long term stays.

On Monday 1st November, an urgent, pre-action letter was sent to the office of the Home Secretary on behalf of the charity Detention Action and a woman held at the Manston facility.

The letter represents the first legal action taken against the Home Secretary for “the unlawful treatment of people held at the facility.”

The charity Detention Action provides support and practical advice to people held in immigration detention.

Detention Action and the individual female claimant are represented by Duncan Lewis solicitors.

The letter contended that the individual woman claimant, a national of a non-European country, was unlawfully detained by the Home Secretary at the Manston facility in ‘egregiously defective conditions’. The letter also states ‘It is emphasised on behalf of Detention Action that the complaint includes serious threats to the safety of children.’

Systemic problems challenged by both the individual woman claimant and the charity Detention Action at the facility include: the routine prolongation of detention beyond statutory time limits and inadequate or non-existent access to legal advice for those detained plus exposure to infectious diseases such as diphtheria and scabies.

The Clearsprings Ready Homes website says: “As a provider of accommodation services to the Home Office since 2000, our contracts cover London, the South of England and Wales. We don’t just provide accommodation, we also deliver transportation services, repairs and maintenance and safeguarding support for residents.

“We also work closely with non-government organisations, local voluntary groups, statutory services, local authorities and landlords to ensure the properties are fully compliant and the welfare of the residents is closely managed.”

At a meeting between Mr Jenrick and Kent MPs yesterday there was an assurance that local authorities would be consulted before people were moved into asylum accommodation – which did not happen in Ashford recently – but Mr Mackinlay says because this site has gone through a third party contractor the Home Office might not even be aware of the location.

The rise in small boat Channel crossings, and so the need for accommodation, has helped Clearsprings boost its profits  to £28,012,487 in the year ending 31 January 2022.

The cost of people seeking asylum being housed in hotels is currently £5.6m per day. This does not include accommodation for Afghan families which is an additional £1.2m per day, the Home Affairs Committee was told last month.

Photo Louis McLaren

Last week hundreds of people were moved out of Manston processing centre to hotels or immigration detention facilities following the outcry over overcrowding and extended detention times which are not legally compliant.

The centre had reached some 4000 people being held despite only having capacity for up to 1,600, partly due to 1,458 people detected making small boat Channel crossings over last weekend and a petrol bomb attack at the Dover migration site meaning some 700 people had to be moved immediately to Manston.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman visited the Western Jet Foil in Dover and Manston asylum sites on Thursday (November 3) and confirmed steps are being taken to immediately improve the situation on the ground.

These include bolstering the 24/7 medical facilities already on-site, extra bedding and improved catering facilities, as well as providing more activities to support migrant welfare, including for children.

She also thanked staff for their continued hard work.

Campaigners who protested outside the centre earlier this week say the conditions are inhumane and it needs to be shut. A further protest will be held this Sunday at 2pm.