The use of former student accommodation in Broadstairs to house people seeking asylum has ended abruptly after just three days.
The premises, on the former Canterbury Christ Church University Thanet campus, was procured by Clearsprings Ready Homes which has a 10-year contract to manage asylum seeker accommodation in England and Wales.
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.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, who raised the issue of the accommodation in Parliament yesterday, said those at the Broadstairs site have already been moved out after Kent Fire and Rescue Service declined to certify it.
He said: “Important update #Broadstairs. I am given to understand that @kentfirerescue refused to certify the old Christ Church Uni block as safe for migrant accommodation. All 77 who arrived over the weekend have been moved by coach out of the area. This location was never appropriate.”
However, Mark Woodward, Kent Fire and Rescue Service’s (KFRS) Assistant Director for Customer and Building Safety, said: “Our building fire safety team has made contact with the site operator for the building but no visits have yet been carried out and no recommendations have been issued.”
St George’s school head teacher Adam Mirams has also contacted pupils’ families to update them on the situation, saying: “The current situation is that the asylum seekers have been moved out as of this morning. I hope this reduces the anxiety of some of our school community.”
Council leader Ash Ashbee this week had spoken of her “absolute dismay” that the site was being used without any notification to the local authority.
She also revealed the council has been working to procure the building for emergency homelessness accommodation.
She said: “Since August I have been trying to procure the building for Thanet council. I have been putting together a financial plan so we could provide accommodation for emergency housing for our homeless in Thanet.”
Kent County Council had also expressed interest to use the site for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and there had been interest from an NHS and Age UK partnership, she revealed.
Cllr Ashbee said the council was close to being able to put in a “complete offer” for the site, adding: “The accommodation in set out into single rooms and would not have been suitable for families unless we did some work. We didn’t want to take it on as single rooms and had a design to try and provide between 16-20 units suitable for families.”
Cllr Ashbee says Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is due to meet with Kent council leaders in the coming days.
The site is privately owned by a London college after Christ Church University put the campus up for sale.
Ward councillor Mike Garner said: “The situation at Christ Church Campus over the last few days has been a debacle from start to finish. No consideration was ever given to the impact on the local community and no regard was given to the people seeking asylum who’ve been moved from pillar to post with very little, if any, support.
“The blame for this lies at the door of the Government who, by outsourcing the issue of accommodating asylum seekers to Clearsprings Ready Homes on a 10-year contract, have effectively washed their hands of their responsibilities at a cost to the tax payer of £1billion!
“We are now left with a building, which the council had been looking at leasing and renovating to provide accommodation to ease local housing issues, sitting empty in the hands of a company who are now unable to use it in the foreseeable future. This can’t be allowed to happen again and any future use of the building needs to go through the council’s full planning process.”
A Home Office spokesperson previously said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who seek asylum and require accommodation has reached record levels, placing unprecedented pressures on the asylum system.
“The Government is working with all local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to provide more suitable accommodation for asylum seekers and to end the unacceptable use of hotels, with more than £21 million in grant funding already been provided to local authorities to help them respond to challenges in their area.”
The latest year end accounts report for Clearsprings on Companies House says: “Local authorities are always consulted extensively on the location and operation of accommodation, to ensure and promote harmonious integration of the Company’s service users with the wider community.
“The Directors aspire to minimise the adverse environmental impact of the Company’s activities. Service users are encouraged to take a responsible approach to the use of energy. The Company’s employees are also encouraged to use greener forms of transport where possible.
“The directors are concerned to maintain a reputation for high standards of conduct and governance in the Company’s activities.”