'Broken' housing market to blame for 50,000 asylum seekers being housed in hotels, Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart told

Britain's "broken" housing market is at the root of asylum seekers being placed en masse in hotels across the country, a Yorkshire business conference has hard.

An event at the UKREiiF real estate investment conference in Leeds this week hosted by Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell heard from Camden Council leader Georgia Gould and recently-deposed Stoke on Trent Council leader Abi Brown, who was attending in her capacity as chair of the Local Government Association's Improvement and Innovation Board.

Both Gould, from Labour, and Brown, a Conservative, criticised the Home Office's approach to dispersing asylum seekers - with both of their areas among the places where hotels now house asylum seekers.

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It comes as the Government is planning to temporarily remove licensing requirements for asylum-seeker accommodation as it attempts to move thousands out of hotels – a move critics have warned will put their safety at risk.

The issue was discussed at a panel event at the UKREiiF conference in LeedsThe issue was discussed at a panel event at the UKREiiF conference in Leeds
The issue was discussed at a panel event at the UKREiiF conference in Leeds

Almost 50,000 people are currently in hotels on top of approximately 57,000 in long-standing asylum accommodation. In areas such as Rotherham where asylum seekers have been put in hotels there have been protests and counter-demonstrations by anti-immigration groups and pro-immigration organisations.

Multiple councils have launched legal challenges against the Home Office placing asylum seekers in hotels in their areas. The Home Office has argued that “unprecedented pressures” on the asylum seekers has required the use of hotels and that is has been “working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation during this challenging time”.

But Coun Gould told the conference: “I think how the Home Office have handled the placement of people across the country has been appalling – with no warning and not working alongside communities.

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"We have many people waiting for years for asylum and they are not allowed to work or contribute, which I think is completely wrong.

"In Camden we have 2,000 Afghan refugees and we will find homes for everyone to settle as part of our community. There has been a real strength in Camden around that kind of welcome, working alongside people and absorbing that diversity and seeing this as a new community that adds something.

"But there is a fundamental issue that the level of asylum we are seeing at the moment exposes that the whole housing market is broken because the Government is struggling so hard to place people.

"There is nothing in Camden, in central London, that sits underneath the housing benefit cap. We did a search around the whole country and we couldn’t find a four-bedroom [property] anywhere that is under the cap. That is as true for somebody in temporary accommodation in Camden as it is for somebody seeking asylum. I think we have to come to terms with the housing crisis to deal with the concerns that our communities do have.”

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Coun Brown, whose Conservative group lost control of Stoke-on-Trent City Council to Labour in this month’s local elections while she retained her own seat, said: “The reality is Stoke-on-Trent has had one of the highest concentrations of asylum seekers in the country.

"One of the biggest challenges I faced as leader is how you navigate your way through a city that is incredibly challenged, where people are struggling on a day-to-day basis but they can see people coming into the city. While there is necessarily a direct impact on the council in terms of us having to pay for things, there is clearly a wider impact.

"You have got two hotels at the moment and it has meant that basically there are no free school places in the city. The local authority is now having to pay to take children into school. There’s a massive pressure around that.”

"I’ve been to both the hotels and found it incredibly moving and compassionate the way people are being supported in my city. But I also go and knock on doors of families who are really struggling. How do you navigate your way through that system as a Conservative politician where you feel it is incredibly unfair that you are the only place within 100 miles that is taking asylum seekers? None of the other districts around us were.

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"Across the West Midlands we were one of only six or seven local authorities who were a dispersal asylum area – how is that fair on a city that is already really struggling and got so many challenges?”

Robert Evans, partner at property developer Related Argent, told the event that as chair of governors at King's Cross Academy in London he has got an insight into the issue as local schools take in child refugees as pupils.

"Actually it is really impressive how a support network has developed in that part of London, all locally-based. The Govenrment has literally just dropped the people and kind of walked away. A real support network has come into play and has worked but it is all locally based.

"I think the problem is people are very supportive of these things until they see the sort of money and things that would make it work don’t come with it.”

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Coun Brown added: “Stoke has been an asylum dispersal since the beginning and I’m really proud actually of how many people have come to my brilliant city and we have a diverse population as a result. But the issue then comes down to additional pressure on the system.

"I’m entirely with Georgia [Gould] – we have both been sat in meetings together talking to the Home Office about how the plan hasn’t worked.

"People will approach me in supermarkets and say ‘I’ve heard in these hotels, there is this and that and a gym and all these things’. The reality is that isn’t actually happening but in a place where many people can’t afford to run a car they hear about people in really prominent hotels who they think have basically got access to an all-inclusive hotel.”

Housing minister Felicity Buchan told a Commons Delegated Legislation Committee this week that the Government’s plan to temporarily remove licensing requirements is “part of a broader suite of measures that the Home Office is implementing” to “speed up” the moving of asylum seekers out of hotels.

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A Government spokesman said: “The use of expensive hotels to house the unprecedented number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel is unacceptable and must end.

“By temporarily removing this licensing requirement, we will be able to acquire more suitable long-term accommodation while continuing to meet our legal duty of care.

“This will not compromise standards and all properties will be independently inspected for quality to ensure they continue to meet national housing quality requirements.”

The Government also controversially plans to house migrants on barges.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has labelled ministers’ plans “morally unacceptable and politically impractical” but Rishi Sunak said he sees them as a key part of the solution to the hotels issue.

He said this month: “I don’t think it’s right that the British taxpayers are forking out £5.5 million a day to house illegal asylum seekers, that hotels in their communities are being taken over for this use. So barges are a solution to that and we will do as many as it takes.”

It comes as polling showed a generation divide over the building of more housing in the green belt.

The Fabian Society and YouGov found 63 per cent of under-25s support such construction, compared with only 31 per cent of over-65s.

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Mr Sunak has ruled out allowing building on the green belt after Labour backed the move in order to alleviate the housing crisis.

The Prime Minister said he wants to “make sure our green spaces are protected” after being accused by Sir Keir Starmer of killing off the dream of home ownership by failing to build.

Mr Sunak has dropped plans for mandatory local housing targets as part of a plan to build 300,000 homes a year in response to a revolt by Tory MPs and activists.

But he is under pressure to get Britain building in order to increase the supply of homes to alleviate soaring rents and shortages.