High Court rules against the use of hotels as asylum seeker accommodation within a Great Yarmouth protected seafront area

The UK has, over the last several months, seen unprecedented levels of channel crossings made by asylum seekers. Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (read together with the regulation 5 of the Asylum Seekers (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2005 imposes a duty on the Home Secretary to provide “support” (which includes accommodation) for such asylum seekers and their dependents who appear to her to be or likely to be become “destitute” within 14 days. 

As a result of these statutory obligations the Home Secretary has entered into arrangements with individual hotels via various providers of public services such as Serco Ltd whereby such accommodation offered to asylum seekers whilst their applications for asylum are being processed. 

In the recent case of Gt Yarmouth v Al-Abdin & Ors [2022] EWHC 3476 (KB) Holgate J considered whether, against this factual background, an interim injunction granted by Knowles J on 23 November 2023 prohibiting the use of the Villa Rose Hotel and any other hotel within Gt Yarmouth’s protective tourism Policy GY6 area, should be continued until the hearing of Gt Yarmouth BC’s final injunction application. The basis for Gt Yarmouth BC’s application for an injunction was that the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers would constitute a material change of use of those premises from a hotel use to a hostel use, for which planning permission should first be obtained.

This was not the first occasion on which Holgate J had considered whether injunctions sought by local authorities in similar contexts should be granted or continued. In Fenland DC v CBPRP Ltd (2) Serco Ltd (3) H&H North Ltd [2022] EWHC 3132 (KB), the court refused to grant a local authority's application for an interim injunction restraining a hotel in Wisbech from being used by a government contractor as interim accommodation for asylum seekers because there was no evidence of any particular risk to the asylum seekers in the town, and the planning concerns about the hotel's use did not outweigh the substantial need for temporary accommodation in light of a recent increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK. And before that, in Ipswich Borough Council v (1) Fairview Hotels (Ipswich) Ltd (2) Serco Ltd; East Riding of Yorkshire Council v (1) LGH Hotels Management Ltd & Ors [2022] EWHC 2868 the court refused to continue two interim injunctions obtained by local authorities restraining hotels from being block-booked as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers by government contractors on the basis that although there was a triable issue as to whether that use was a material change of use from a hotel to a hostel, the balance of convenience lay in allowing the use to continue until trial, particularly in light of the Home Office's need for temporary accommodation for the recent influx in asylum seekers.

But the Gt Yarmouth case marked a departure from previous High Court decisions to discontinue interim injunctions preventing the placement of asylum seekers in hotels, for two principle reasons. First, both the hotel in question in that case (the Villa Rose) and the wider area covered by the interim injunction, fell within a policy area (GY6) aimed at preventing the loss of hotel uses and any consequential harm to the locally important tourist economy. And second the Villa Rose itself was already subject to an enforcement notice dated 2006 but still in force, prohibiting any change from hotel to hostel use. 

These two key features of the Gt Yarmouth case distinguished its facts from those of similar injunction applications which had come before the court and informed different conclusions in this case. Holgate J, applying the principles he had set out in the Ipswich case, held (in common with those earlier cases) that there was a serious issue to be tried (namely whether there had been an unauthorised change of use from hotel to hostel use) but that because of the importance and “highly specific” nature of the protective policies of Policy GY6 [50], the longer period of likely occupation by asylum seekers than had been envisaged in previous injunction applications [55] and the seriousness of the likely harm to the local tourist economy between the date of the application to continue the interim injunction and any final hearing [63] the balance of convenience lay in favour of continuing the interim injunction rather than discharging it.

Moreover, unlike in previous injunction cases which Holgate J had considered, he held that “the apprehended breach of planning control has a flagrant character” because the existence of the 2006 enforcement notice at the Villa Rose had done nothing to prevent plans to change the use of that hotel in breach of the terms of the notice [67].

Whilst acknowledging (once again) the importance of the statutory duties to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers, to which the Home Secretary is subject [73] the Court accepted Gt Yarmouth’s evidence as to the importance to it of its tourist economy and the further importance of encouraging this key source of income after particularly challenging periods brought about by the COVID pandemic and the recent economic downturn [77]. The Court also noted that Serco Ltd had failed either to take account of the GY6 planning policy, within which the use of Villa Rose and other hotels fell to be considered, and failed also to demonstrate either the Villa Rose or any other hotel or hotels within the GY6 were essential in order for it to assist the Home Secretary in meeting her statutory obligations to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers [78]

Careful to emphasise the particular features of the Gt Yarmouth case (and therefore not to unduly impede the discharge of the Home Secretary obligations in relation to asylum seekers by the use of other hotels where necessary and justifiable) Holgate J therefore held both in relation to the Villa Rose hotel and to all other hotels also situated within the GY6 policy area that “…the factors in favour of continuing the injunction plainly outweigh those in favour of discharging it.”  [79]

There is no doubt that this case marks a stemming of the tide of judicial acceptance of the use by the Home Secretary of hotels as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers without seeking either planning permission or a certificate of lawfulness to show that no such permission is required. The Gt Yarmouth case is an illustration of the Court’s preparedness to apply the American Cyanamid interim injunction principles differently where particular circumstances dictate. It serves also as a clear signal to the Home Secretary and its agents that more careful consideration of the suitability of particular sites is required before decisions are made to accommodate asylum seekers there.                        

Richard Wald KC and Jake Thorold of 39 Essex Chambers, acted for Gt Yarmouth BC in these proceedings.

Click below to download a copy of the judgment in Gt Yarmouth v Al-Abdin & Ors [2022] EWHC 3476 (KB).