Thanet MP calls for objections to proposal for centre for asylum seeking youngsters in Broadstairs

The former student accommodation

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay is calling for objections to be lodged for a proposal to use the former student accommodation at Northwood Court – by the Nelson College Broadstairs campus–  as a reception centre for unaccompanied asylum-seeking youngsters.

The application has been made by Ready Homes with the site identified by Kent County Council (KCC) and Ready Homes as a suitable location for the Reception Centre which will provide specialist accommodation for up to 86 young people aged 16-17.

Clearsprings Ready Homes is a provider of social services care leaver accommodation under a contract with Kent County Council and also contracted by the government to find and operate accommodation for people awaiting asylum claims.

Planning documents say: “The need for this bespoke type of accommodation derives from the County Council’s statutory responsibility for UAS children entering the United Kingdom via the Port of Dover.

“KCC are required to provide accommodation, safeguarding and support to children and young people and as part of this, the UAS Children’s Service is required to identify Reception Centre facilities within Kent boundaries.

“A High Court judgement on 27th July 2023 ordered KCC to immediately take all possible steps to accommodate UAS children and increase its care capacity in response to the Council receiving over 1,200 UAS children referred when arriving in the County.

“There are two existing Reception Centres  in Ashford and Cranbrook, however they do not have the capacity to meet this significant increase in demand and are unable to expand on-site. It is therefore necessary for KCC to open an additional Reception Centre located near to the point of entry of UAS children into Kent.

“KCC have undertaken searches for suitable sites and buildings which could provide the specialist accommodation and as part of this process, Ready Homes identified Northwood Court as the preferred opportunity.”

The reception centre, and the services KCC provides to UAS children, will be funded by Central Government, not from the council’s reserves or from the Kent taxpayer.

Craig Mackinlay

Mr Mackinlay (Conservative), is calling on residents in Broadstairs object to the plan, saying: “The proposed migrant centre at Northwood Court in Broadstairs is close to two schools and has a large local residential population.”

He says it is well documented that adult asylum seekers “lie about their age” because child asylum seekers get greater support and funding.

Mr Mackinlay added: “Location and these realities are significant factors which the community should oppose. Were this proposal to go ahead, it would have implications on our local police’s ability to deliver the service Thanet residents need and deserve.

“The Labour-dominated planning committee could stop this, leaving the applicants, an agency for Kent County Council, to go to Planning Appeal. The previous Conservative administration at TDC had an innovative plan to put this building to use as emergency accommodation for local homeless families. I hope that planning reasons can be put forward for the change of use to be refused.

“I call on Broadstairs residents to formally object to this ill-conceived application and lobby the Labour council to put Broadstairs residents first.”

Kent County Council says if concerns regarding a child’s age are raised whilst they are in KCC’s care, an age assessment is completed by social workers. If the assessment concludes the person is aged over 18 years old, they are immediately moved to Home Office accommodation and support for adults.

KCC adds that one of its existing reception centres is based in a residential area, close to local schools and community services. The authority says “this centre is operating well and has been for many years, with no adverse effect on the local schools or the children attending them.”

Thanet council leader Rick Everitt (Labour) said: “As leader of the Labour group and a substitute member of the planning committee it is not appropriate for me to give a view on any live planning application.

“Councillors must not predetermine their decision in advance of a planning meeting and they must not feel they are being whipped on party lines. By law there cannot be a party position on it, which also applies to opposition councillors. Otherwise the council’s decision can potentially be overturned by the courts, as well as by the government’s planning inspectorate if the decision is a refusal.

“In this case, the application is being made on behalf of Conservative-controlled Kent County Council to Thanet District Council. It is not a proposal from TDC or one that we have encouraged. It is wholly disingenuous of Mr Mackinlay to try to make this a party matter, but the fact is that it is Conservatives at KCC who are behind it. Thanet District Council does not own the building and has a legal obligation to consider what is put in front of it, in this case at the behest of Tory-run KCC.

“Clearly this is an application that engages residents and I can promise that all the Labour councillors involved will be mindful of the representations received from the public, alongside all other relevant planning considerations.”

Polly Billington (Labour)

Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for the constituency Polly Billington added: “It’s a bit rich of the Tory MP complaining about the consequences of his own government’s failure to tackle immigration.

“The backlog in processing claims means more children and adults are living in hotels and other unsuitable accommodation. That is why a Labour government will crack down on the criminal gangs, speed up the process and end hotel use.”

Ready Homes has been providing care accommodation services for KCC since 2017.

The county council has dealt with the referral of more than 2,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into its service in the last year.

Image Hume Planning Consultancy

Amended planning application documents say: “The residents will stay at the Reception Centre for a typical 10 working day period (the mandated timescale for the NTS Transfer). The scheme has been established to enable the safe transfer of UAS children from one local authority (the entry authority from which the unaccompanied child transfers) to another local authority (the receiving authority).

“The NTS is mandatory with children being required to be moved on within 10 working days. As such, the building will not form their full-time residence within the country.”

Documents on behalf of Ready Homes and KCC also say: “Each child will have an allocated social worker regularly visiting them and leading a plan for their care and allocated Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) to ensure this plan is satisfactorily completed.

“Therefore, social workers will be at Northwood Court alongside dedicated management staff and security. In addition there will be 1 Centre Manager, 5 Centre Operatives, 4 security staff, 2 cleaning staff and 3 catering staff overall. It is estimated that at any one time there would an average of 22 staff on site at times of peak occupancy.

“Daytime activities at the Reception Centre will consist of education with English lessons for speakers of other languages, independent living skills and leisure activities. Similar to the existing Reception Centres at Ashford and Cranbrook, these activities will mostly take place on-site.

“The site will be managed by Ready Homes, on behalf of KCC, who will provide the accommodation and facilities management of the Centre. To provide suitable support for the children, the facility will be assisted by health staff, translators, educational and emotional support services.

The former Broadstairs student accommodation site

“Children can independently leave the centre for short periods of time, with the agreement of staff about where they will be and when they will return. This could be at different times of the day and will depend on the child’s age and individual circumstances, but generally older children are asked to return by early evening.

“Typically, during their stay, the residents will be required to return to the site no later than 8pm to be present for a daily registration record that takes place shortly before 10pm. There will also be working CCTV installed onsite to provide security to the site and building.”

Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) works with young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees.

A spokesperson said: “The children will have arrived after long and traumatic journeys – the very least they deserve is a welcoming and safe space. We believe reception centres such as the one proposed in Broadstairs (and others across Kent) will provide that safe space and the wraparound support they need and deserve.”

Northwood Court contains 85 ensuite bedrooms arranged in a series of flats, a warden flat, a laundry room with bike, bin and smoking shelters. Four car parking spaces are provided within the gated complex with a further fifteen car parking spaces allocated to the west of the building.

Planning permission was granted on 19th October 2023 for the change of use from student accommodation to proposed workers accommodation in association with Thanet Earth but this proposal did not progress any further.

Prior to that, in 2022, the site was procured by Clearsprings Ready Homes which has a 10-year contract to manage asylum seeker accommodation in England and Wales, and briefly used to house people seeking asylum.

Some 100 objections against the proposal have been lodged with Thanet council.

The Planning Application can be viewed and  comments submitted online at by typing ‘TH/23/1574’ in the search box.

Comments can also be sent by letter to: Planning Applications Section, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Cecil Street, Margate, CT9 1XZ. Objecting residents should ensure to include their name, full postal address and also quote the application number: F/TH/23/1574.

The deadline is May 24.

Find KCC information about reception centres here