Pressure mounts as two Stoke-on-Trent hotels closed to public to house migrants

The leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council says she's worried extremism could flair up after two large recent influxes of migrants to the city.

Two hotels, the North Stafford Hotel in Stoke and the Best Western in Hanley, are currently closed to the public so they can house migrants.

Authorities are keeping an eye on tensions in the city, and making sure this doesn't become an issue.

Council leader Abi Brown said: "I think that's something we are concerned about.

"I spoke not so long ago about some of the challenges around extremism in the city and this is only potentially likely to heighten that.

"But we are a very friendly welcoming city, and I'm very proud of that."

She says the city is facing numerous pressures as a result of their legal duty to support with certain services like education and public health.

"There is a limit to the support that we are able to give.

"We are statutorily required to provide support, so for example we've found places for children in school, and a cost comes with that.

"The cost will be to schools - in terms of supporting children who often won't have English as a first language, and a variety of other things.

"The scale of what we are now being expected to deal with is huge.

"We have above 800 asylum seekers in the city who've arrived as part of the dispersal system.

"They didn't all arrive at once, they arrived a bit at a time, but what we've seen over the last few weeks is considerably larger numbers arriving in two goes, at two hotels stood up very quickly within a similar location.

Cllr Brown is worried what the closure of two hotels will mean for the city's economy.

"The use of the Best Western in the city centre has displaced groups who used the swimming pool there.

"We do have other swimming pools elsewhere, but it's the inconvenience for them and the additional pressure that puts on those other locations having to accommodate groups - and the upset to people in terms of the disruption."

She made clear the migrants and asylum seekers weren't to blame for the added pressure facing local services, but is worried about the impact on the city's appeal to visitors.

"Granted we're not in the same league as Blackpool or London, or other places, but we do have tourism that comes to the city and we've worked hard to increase that - with people staying over.

Stoke-on-Trent Credit: ITV News

Despite this, Cllr Brown said she wants to avoid the conversation becoming alarmist - and is keen that Christmas shoppers don't feel discouraged from visiting Hanley.

She said: "The individuals who are in these hotels are, in the vast majority of cases, frightened people.

"They are predominantly families, usually with children, they're in a strange country with a language they more than likely don't speak, and what we're seeing is they tend to stay within the hotels themselves.

"I don't think there's anything for people to worry about, visiting the city centre.

"There isn't any reason to put people off coming to our city."

Cllr Brown wants her city to play its part, but is keen for others to step up to share the task.

"Stoke-on-Trent is a city that's trying really hard to change things for itself, being asked again and again to do even more.

"I've fought really hard over the last few years to make a change on that - including taking my own government to court, because I felt it was intrinsically unfair that people were being sent to Stoke-on-Trent and not to other places."

A Home Office spokesperson said:  

“The number of people arriving in the UK who seek asylum and require accommodation has reached record levels, placing unprecedented pressures on the asylum system.  

“The Home Office and partners identify sites for accommodation based on whether they are safe and available. While we accept that hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation, and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation during this challenging time.”