The Council’s substantive claim was for an injunction, pursuant to section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to restrain a breach of planning control.
The Council learned on 4 November 2022 that a hotel in Wisbech, the Rose & Crown, was to be used as accommodation for asylum seekers and that rooms in the hotel had been ‘spot-booked’. This was despite the Council’s concerns about organised crime, significant deprivation, exploitation and trafficking within Wisbech which it felt would place asylum seekers, who are particularly vulnerable, at risk. Wisbech’s status as a ‘no-go area’ had been accepted by the Second Defendant, Serco, (who are contracted by the Home Office for the purposes of providing accommodation for asylum seekers) in the context of dispersal accommodation. The Council was also concerned about other issues, such as the loss of hotel accommodation contrary to adopted local policies, and the associated adverse economic consequences. The Council’s position was that there had been a material change of use for which planning permission had been neither sought nor granted such that there had been a breach of planning control and that that breach would place the safety and welfare of the asylum seekers accommodated in Wisbech at risk of serious harm.
The High Court, in considering the application for an interim injunction, applied the well-known American Cyanamid tests. All parties accepted at court that there was a triable issue i.e. whether or not the use of the hotel for accommodating asylum seekers was a material change of use from a hotel to a hostel, and that damages would not be an adequate remedy. In relation to the balance of convenience, the Council argued that Wisbech was unique in the area on account of the dangers present in Wisbech such that an interim injunction ought to be granted. Holgate J, who placed particular weight on the urgency of the situation facing the Home Office, held, however, that overall the balance of convenience did not lie in favour of the grant of an interim injunction on the basis that the evidence before the Court was such that the alleged harm did not override the need to accommodate asylum seekers in contingency initial accommodation; the immediate restraint of the continued accommodation of asylum seekers would not be necessary on account of the level of harm set out in the evidence before the Court. The Council has, in the light of the judgment, decided not to proceed with its substantive application and is further considering alternative enforcement action.