Asylum seeker cabins at Dunchurch hotel granted permission on appeal
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Temporary cabins to accommodate asylum seekers on the grounds of Dunchurch Park Hotel have been granted planning permission on appeal.
Rugby Borough Council’s planning committee had unanimously voted to refuse the application by Signature Hotel Group Limited to use 40 cabins that it had already placed on the car park of the Grade II listed building to house up to 120 asylum seekers.
However, that call was overturned last month through a successful appeal to the Planning Inspectorate – the national body that applicants can go to when they are unhappy with a council’s decision.
The hotel is already being used for asylum seekers but planning officers at the council recommended saying no to the cabins due to the detrimental impact on the heritage assets and that they would be out of keeping with the site. Councillors agreed, arguing the venture appeared commercially driven and opportunistic.
Following a hearing, planning inspector Andrew Smith agreed that heritage harms were present but that the planning balance tipped in favour of saying yes based on the wider need for asylum seeker accommodation. He granted permission for the cabins to be used for up to 18 months from July 31, 2023.
Mr Smith’s report read: “As confirmed in correspondence received from the Home Office, the asylum system is under enormous and unsustainable pressure following an unprecedented rise in small boat crossings and a statutory obligation applies to accommodate any asylum seeker who would otherwise be left destitute.
“Whilst reference is made in this Home Office correspondence to an intention to gradually reduce the use of hotels to create a more sustainable accommodation system, there is no clear or obvious reason to doubt that the cabins, at this current time, would make a highly valuable contribution towards meeting an acute need for additional accommodation.”
He also noted equality laws before adding: “All related matters considered, I find that the public benefits associated with accommodating asylum seekers in the cabins, even though across a time-limited 18-month period, attract significant weight.
“In my judgement, in accordance with the relevant policy test contained within the framework, the proposal’s public benefits would outweigh, on both an individual and collective basis, the less than substantial harm I have identified is caused by the installed cabins to the heritage significance of Dunchurch Lodge, the Garden Walls and the registered park and garden.
“This is even whilst acknowledging that even less than substantial harm to a designated heritage asset carries considerable importance and weight.”
The decision was highlighted at Wednesday’s planning committee meeting by development and enforcement manager Richard Holt.
He said: “The Planning Inspectorate has allowed this to operate for 18 months from July 31.
“The inspector concluded there was harm to the heritage assets adjacent to the site but owing to the acute need for asylum seeker accommodation, this public benefit outweighed the heritage harm.”
None of the councillors present commented.