An approach on behalf of the Home Office to use The Oak Hotel/Restaurant 66 building on Ramsgate’s Harbour Parade to provide asylum seeker accommodation is “not something” owner Dayne Gooding currently plans to take forward.
The Home Office and asylum services contractor Clearsprings indicated interest in using the site and the government department informed Thanet council and South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay of its plans.
Thanet council told the Home Office that the site was not suitable for the proposed use with leader Cllr Ash Ashbee saying she is ‘totally dismayed’ that the Harbour Parade hotel was even being considered.
A letter from the Home Office to TDC says: “We have identified the Castle (former name of the Oak/Restaurant 66), 68 Harbour Parade, Ramsgate, as a site to be used to accommodate asylum seekers.”
However, owner Mr Gooding says no agreements have been signed and indications that the property will be used from Monday (January 16) are incorrect.
The isle businessman, who bought the former Thorley Taverns site in October, confirmed the Home Office approach but said it was just one of several interested parties and not a preferred option.
He said the approach was a “tick box exercise” and although the financial offer was ‘aggressive’ it “is not something I want to be doing.”
He said his preference is to lease locally and/or gain planning permission to reduce the hotel size to a boutique offering.
The hotel currently has 33 en-suite bedrooms, The Restaurant Sixty – Six and bar. The former Café Roma part of the building is leased to Margate businesswoman Charlotte Silver who opened Ronnies cocktail bar at the premises last month.
Mr Gooding says the property is being marketed through Miles and Barr and a planning application to reduce the hotel size is due to be lodged imminently.
He added: “We have had interest in the hotel as well as the bar by several different operators. We are delighted to have already signed up a tenant on the ground floor to occupy the former café Roma and are close to agreeing a lease on another unit.
“The hotel is available to lease and is being marketed through a local commercial agent. We are looking very soon to submit an application to Thanet District Council planning to reduce the size of the hotel to make a smaller boutique hotel.”
Mr Gooding said the economic climate means the current costs of the hotel in energy and water bills comes to some £10,000 per month – despite the majority of the building being empty – and if it is still empty in six to 12 months time, the Home Office approach could be considered.
But he added: “They are not top of my list. My preferred option is a local tenant or boutique hotel. I’m really keen for local people to fill the units and make it a vibrant asset for the community.”
Mr Gooding said he would also be open to the site being used as temporary accommodation for Thanet residents facing homelessness.
Council leader Ash Ashbee said: “It is an understatement to say that I am totally dismayed that the Government’s contractor, Clearsprings, has yet again selected an unsuitable location for the temporary accommodation for migrants.
“Many reasons for the unsuitability of this site were highlighted in a comprehensive letter from our chief executive to the Home Office.
“This comes following the pledge from Minister Robert Jenrick in a meeting with Kent leaders prior to Christmas that both Thanet and Dover would be excluded from the migrant dispersal allocation as both districts were already providing facilities by way of processing centres.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said he has also been spending time highlighting the unsuitability of a seafront site for asylum seeker accommodation.
He said: “There have been rumours in the air for some months as to the future of The Oak, Ramsgate following its sale to a local property business. I first heard of the potential for migrant accommodation in late October of last year and have been dissuading Ministers as to the suitability of this site, at the heart of Ramsgate’s £21million Levelling Up Grant plan, ever since.
“I have also been in dialogue with Thanet District Council officers alerting them to the possibility: TDC has been considering the planning status of the property and whether any such use could be rejected within planning constraints.
“As long as ‘hotel’ style services of a reception desk, room cleaning etc are in place, the use of the property would be deemed ‘hotel’ in nature and could not easily be opposed, however undesirable.
“The latest news that the hotel is to be stood up for migrant accommodation on 16th January is, however, untrue.
“Having spoken with the new owner, there has indeed been an approach by Clearsprings, one of the outsourced companies responsible for locating migrant accommodation for the Home Office, but nothing is in place beyond tentative discussions.
“Given a burn rate of £15-20,000 per month in Business Rates, utilities and management I can see the appeal of a gold-plated government funded deal, however, it is not the owner’s preferred plan and they would rather lease the entire property to a usual hotel operator or seek planning consent for a new scheme, reducing the hotel to a more manageable size, down from the current 33 rooms and with conversion of part of the property to flats.
“From the community’s point of view these would be preferable options and I would recommend that planning officers look carefully and speedily at this alternative plan.
“I have now escalated this matter to the Home Secretary. There had been assurances given by Ministers that because of the burden of managing the Manston processing site, and also Dover being at the forefront of the (small boat) landings, that East Kent would not feature in the migrant dispersal plan on the basis that we had done our bit in the complex puzzle that is the migrant crisis. I want to hold them to that.
“I do appreciate that the government is on the horns of a dilemma. There is insufficient appropriate accommodation available and an overwhelming number of arrivals in 2022 with a requirement to manage the people as their claims are processed. Stopping these irregular crossings is the solution and I anticipate imminent legislation and tougher action to stop this foul and unnecessary trade.”
Mr Mackinlay added that migration without checks and controls would potentially result in the “reality” of premises “at the centre” of the isle’s “tourism offer” being commandeered for the asylum dispersal accommodation programme.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “ The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.
“The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 45,500 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6 million a day.
“The use of hotels is a temporary solution, and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.”
Clearsprings Ready Homes previously moved people into the former student accommodation at the previous Canterbury Christ Church University campus in Broadstairs but shut down that use after just three days.
The firm has two Home Office contracts for asylum seeker services. The value of these is £662 million for operations in the South and £334 million for Wales totalling £996 million for the 10 year period.
Clearsprings declined to comment on the approach to use The Oak Hotel.
A record 45,756 people came to UK in small boats in 2022.
Letter to government
Last November Cllr Ashbee was among 14 authority leaders in Kent and Medway to sign a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman setting out “ significant concerns regarding the current situation with Home Office strategic sites in the county and the Department’s plans to secure further adult asylum dispersal accommodation (in Kent).”
The district, borough, Medway and county council leaders said they were “astounded” to find out that the Home Office is ‘allocating’ Kent & Medway an additional 1,300 adults to accommodate by December 2023.
They said this figure had been reached because the Home Office says Kent and Medway currently only has 326 adults in asylum dispersal accommodation and lower than regional and national averages per head of the population.
Leaders say Kent’s real position, which includes looking after unaccompanied asylum seeker children and housing both Manston processing centre and Napier Barracks, was “entirely disregarded.”