A former hotel being used to house asylum seekers has been allowed to remain a hostel for another three years.
The former Grove House Hotel in Wallasey on the Wirral is applying for retrospective planning permission for a change of use from a hotel to a hostel. It has been housing asylum seekers since October 2021 but was asked to make the application by Wirral Council. The Home Office had advised this was not necessary.
Despite concerns about the suitability of the hotel to house asylum seekers, councillors gave planning permission for the change of use arguing it might not stand up at appeal. The vote was eight three with the committee’s three Conservative councillors voting against approval.
A number of protests, counter-protests, and other incidents have occurred at the premises with the most recent being on April 7 and councillors said this was having an impact on the area.
Wallasey’s two Conservative councillors Ian Lewis and Lesley Rennie opposed the application due to concerns about welfare of neighbours and asylum seekers, the chopping down of trees without permission, rubbish on the site, and the building of a fence restricting access for hostel residents to the garden.
Cllr Lewis said the council also wouldn’t have knowledge if children were placed at the former hotel and quoted Asylum Matters and the Refugee Council raising concerns about the safety and suitability of hotels.
He said, “We are asking tonight that for the good of all those involved including neighbours who live there and the residents of the former Grove House hotel that you refuse this application.”
However, representatives for the Grove House Hotel said they had engaged with the local community and an email contact was available to address any concerns. Jane Burnham from BW Architects said the trees had been cut down due to safety concerns and the grounds have been tidied up.
She said the consultation found a majority supported the use of the hotel and that there was 24 hour security and no safety incidents had been reported. There were also no reports of antisocial behaviour linked to those living at the hotel.
Ms Burnhema said many of the complaints were “nimbyism”, adding, “The facilities at Grove House for service users are of a high standard providing fully compliant sleeping accommodation, all with en-suite facilities.”
In the meeting, Labour councillor Steve Foulkes criticised the Home Office and Serco, a private immigration services company, over how they handled the situation. He said, “They acted without any consideration for the local community and I have some sympathy for the agent (of the Grove House Hotel owners) who is trying to excuse the inexcusable.”
He criticised the Home Office for advising hotel owners they did not have to go through the planning permission process arguing it “alienated people unnecessarily.”
A proposal was put forward to reduce planning permission from 36 months to just a year. While there was support for this from Cllr Foulkes initially, this was not moved forward due to concerns it could lead to an appeal.
The Home Office has a statutory duty to provide accommodation for asylum seekers who do not have the means to get it themselves. Due to a backlog in processing asylum claims and accommodation options reaching maximum capacity, it began using hotels to house asylum seekers. However, this has been controversial due to the high costs involved.