Home Office's plan for asylum seekers hits snag due to holiday home demand


It followed remarks by Immigration minister Robert Jenrick that he wants to focus on “larger sites to provide decent but basic accommodation”, as the Home Offices desperately grapples to works its way through a backlog of 90 000 applications.

Britain has spent a record £2b this year on asylum seekers  – an increase of £756m from around £1.4bn last year.

But even as officials begin the process to empty the overcrowded RAF Manston holding facility in Kent, the backlog in applications is growing. 

In the frame are household names like Pontin’s, Park Holidays, Warner Holidays and Butlin’s, sources say, with a particular focus on south coast locations and Essex.

Last night a senior source at the Home Office said “nothing was off the table”.

“The scale of the problem is huge –  as things stand, the number of migrants and asylum seekers has outstripped our capacity, and the reality is that we have just weeks to solve this current backlog crisis,“ said the source. “

“We need to examine other options, and the use of off-season holiday camps is an attractive idea. They are enclosed, meaning that we can provide medical and educational services whilst ensuring asylum seekers remain contained, and they would buy us breathing space, while potentially offering another  stream of  revenue to facilities which are not used over the winter months.”

This week several firms told the Sunday Express that they had not yet been approached, but pointed out that they no longer had “off seasons’ – with one accusing the Home Office of “clinging to outdated concepts” of the industry 

While a few brands, like Haven, do close down for winter, Butlin’s, Warner Leisure Hotels, Park Holiday Homes and Pontin’s all operate a 12-month service, with most offering package deals which include an array of inside entertainment.

An insider from Butlin’s – which has moved away from its cheap and cheerful roots based on Billy Butler’s concept of “ a week’s holiday for a weeks pay” to more luxurious resorts –  said: “We simply don’t have an off-season these days and, with the exception of a week or two in January where we carry out maintenance, we experience pretty high occupancy rates throughout the year.”

This was echoed by Warner Leisure Hotels , whose spokesman said: “All Warner properties are open all year round, with thousands of guests already booked to enjoy short breaks throughout the winter months, achieving high occupancy throughout the year.”

Park Holiday Homes replied that they would not speculate on their position should an approach be made. But it squashed any idea of its static homes being bought by the Home Office for this purpose, pointing out that site licence conditions mean they must be for leisure purposes only, with the buyer having a permanent address elsewhere.

Pontin’s – the only firm not to reply to inquiries – also now provides  year-round breaks, though it did last year offer two of its sites to home Afghan refugees.

Other alternatives being considered include purchasing static caravan parks outright and vacant military housing. 

While the idea of using older military barracks has been discounted because most are in a deep state of disrepair and offer no gender segregation, the Home Office team is keen for the Ministry of Defence to release thousands of empty military houses, which are currently being managed by Addington Homes.

Many of the vacant military homes are situated in the Conservative heartlands of Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire and across the Midlands, with others located in Lancashire, North Wales and Scotland.

While these houses are located outside of barracks, many are still behind an enclosed border erected decades ago to offset the threat of IRA attacks.

Potential sites include Weeton Camp near Blackpool – until recently home to the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and the subject of recent renovations, but which has now been vacated, RAF Bawdy, in Wales , and the Army base at Fort George in Scotland – both due to close in the near future – would also be in contention.

But any decision to disperse migrants across the UK could be met with protest and legal objections, as communities demand their own rights be heard at a time of economic depression and council cuts.

In May, plans by the Home Office to send 1,500 immigrants to a former RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire was abandoned after a successful local campaign headed by Kevin Hollinrake MP.

Despite pledges to “move away from the hotel model”, Home Office officials are currently buying hotel space through their agent,  Clearsprings Ready Homes.

Clearsprings currently has a £119m contract with the Welsh government to provide temporary accommodation for asylum seekers, with other government contracts believed to be netting the company £1bn.


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