Agenda item

A Briefing on Manston Processing Centre and its effect on the local area


The Chair invited Members who had requested to speak under 20.1. Councillors Yates, Albon and Rawf made comments as follows:


  • Members thanked Thanet District Council (TDC) officers who had gone to the Manston Processing Centre and intervened regarding the infectious diseases issue at the centre;
  • Members acknowledged the work done by officers to try and keep residents safe;
  • One member indicated that they wanted to promote the Kent Refugee Action Network and Refugees at Home as great organisations that provided support for refugees and asylum seekers in Kent;
  • The Panel was asked to note the conditions that the migrants were living at the Centre and the fact that staff were also working under those poor standard conditions;
  • The Panel was asked to recognise that those conditions were a disgrace;
  • The staff who worked at the Centre did an exceptional job;
  • The centre was supposed to be used by about a total of 1,000 migrants and they would be moved on within 24 hours;
  • However in practice this was not the case as the individuals stayed longer than the 24 hours and there were about 4,000 individuals at one point;
  • The issue of immigration was a national issue. However the council should make representations to the government through the local MPs urging the government to provide safe routes for refugees to come into the country and stop human traffickers from taking advantage of the refugee situation.


The Chair requested for the details of the Kent Refugee Action Network and Refugees at Home to be shared with all Members. 


Councillor Ash Ashbee gave an update as follows:


  • In December 2021, the council was first informed that the processing centre for asylum seekers was going to be set up by the Home Office, at the Ministry of Defence site at Manston;
  • The understanding was to provide a temporary staging point for asylum seekers, prior to getting more permanent placings elsewhere and that no individual would stay at this centre for more than 24 hours;
  • The Leader of Council attended a meeting with the Permanent Secretary on 13 December 2021, where the plan to set up Manston as the processing centre was confirmed;
  • The Leader then convened an urgent informal cabinet meeting to discuss the council’s position on this matter;
  • After this cabinet meeting the leader wrote to the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel  MP on 15 December 2021 to express the council’s grave concerns about the suitability of Manston site and the prospects of expanding beyond its scope; 
  • No reply was received to that letter from the Home Secretary;
  • Recent reports suggested that the Home Secretary had been advised by civil servants since last December of the legal difficulties in failing to find alternative accommodation to Manston;
  • Manston site was being managed entirely by the Home Office or its agents;


  • The council had no role in the management of the Manston site and was therefore not always kept informed of the number of individuals at the site or how long it would continue to be a processing centre;
  • The council got to the site only when the UK Health Safety Agency (UK HSA) asked the Council’s Environmental Department to conduct an inspection of the site, which was then conducted on 9 September 2022;
  • In early November reports emerged in the media indicating that the site was working beyond its planned capacity;
  • It was reported about 4,000 individuals were living at the site when the planned capacity was 1,600;
  • As a result of those reports Clearsprings, a Home Office agent were funded to look for accommodation in Kent and elsewhere in order to move the asylum seekers from Manston as rapidly as was possible;
  • TDC and other councils were not given any prior notice about this operation by the home Office not were they given any notice of any hotels or premises that were being leased for this purpose in their respective local areas;
  • The Leader and other Kent Leaders signed a letter that was sent to the Home Secretary citing the detrimental effect that these arrangements were having on the county and district services;
  • The local MPs also made clear their objections to the use of local accommodation for this purpose without prior notice;


  • It was believed that as a result of these objections local accommodation was stood down by Clearsprings; notably accommodation at the old Christ Church University Campus in Broadstairs;
  • In the week beginning 14 November 2022, the Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick took part in a Webinar with Kent Leaders and CExs and he acknowledged that the situation had not been well handled;
  • The Minister stressed that the Home Office was seeking to rapidly reduce the numbers at Manston to avoid the overcrowding and indicated that moving forward councils would be given 24 hours’ notice before any placements were done in their respective local areas;
  • TDC had thus far not received any notifications;
  • It was reported in the news as at 22 November, that the Manton site was currently empty pending any new arrivals of asylum seekers.


Members made comments and asked questions as follows:


  • The report that the Manston site is currently empty is noted, but would the centre be used in the future?
  • One of the issues that seemed to go wrong was the communication between TDC and the government. What can be done to make the communication better when this site is used again or any other local areas are used by the Home Office?
  • Twenty four hour notice was not a long time. What could TDC do if the 24 hour notice was not given to the council?
  • When TDC’s environmental department carried out its inspection of Manston site, were there any issues that arose from that inspection, particularly with the rising numbers of individuals living at the site and the reports of infectious diseases?
  • There were inadequate infectious disease prevention measures at the site;
  • Would these measures be improved for the future in order to prevent any infectious disease outbreaks, which would affect individuals living and staff working at the centre and likely to affect local residents?
  • Was there any known information regarding the health status of the man who died at the Manston site before he arrived?
  • It was disappointing to hear that the Manston had not been stood down completely because it did not seem the right place to use to manage migration;
  • Was the dispersal programme meant to take place within Kent or further afield?
  • There was some scare mongering and racism on the social media platforms especially in relation to housing. The council had a public equality duty in the discharge of functions to eliminate discrimination, harassment, bullying and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act;
  • It was also the duty of the council to provide equal opportunities for those individuals who shared protected characteristic and those who do not and foster good relations between those who a protected characteristic and those who do not;


  • The management of the immigration at the national level was causing the delays that led to Manston Processing Centre being overcrowded;
  • To what extent were the two local MPs assisting the Leader of Council with the robust push regarding handling of incoming refugees through the district?
  • It was harrowing to see human beings travelling in such conditions to cross the channel. There was a need to look at why the centre was established at Manston. According to the government’s own statistics 80% of those who claim asylum were successful;
  • It was interesting to note that there were a number of systems for processing refugees coming into the country. The Ukrainian and Hong Kong refugees were settled; their children were going to school and they were also allowed to work here too, whilst other refugees were treated under a separate system. It was interesting to note certain people were dealt with much less of an impact on local communities. This was some kind of apartheid system;
  • The council should petition the government to provide a safe route for the 81% of the refugees as described in government statistics who had a legal right to be in the UK. This was so that government could focus on eliminating the loopholes for the 19% who had no right to be in this country and the traffickers;


  • Did Clearsprings still have an association with the Christ Church University Campus?
  • Did the Ministry of Defence have the correct planning permission for the current use of the Manston site to house asylum seekers there?
  • There had been some concern in the local area for the migrants due to misinformation which had created some bad feeling. Could the council issue a statement updating the public on what had happened and the council’s concern for the effect on housing?
  • The government should work with the French government to set up a processing centre in France. They should also allow migrants who had been processed to work. There were a number of job vacancies and the government was considering changing the immigration rules to allow for the recruitment of more people from outside the country and yet there were people who had come into the country and were desperate to work.
  • This was because many of them go through a number of years before their asylum claims were fully processed and in the meanwhile suffered from physical and mental ill health, partly because they were not allowed to work and having to be housed in a hotel at someone’s expense. The whole system needed reviewing;
  • Members paid tribute to Sir Roger Gale MP and Sir Roger’s Office who had been superb in dealing with the Manston issue. His had kept the council informed and his office had been taking a variety of donations for people in need not necessarily only for the people at the Manston Centre;
  • Members urged the two local MPs to continue to put pressure on the government to work with Local Authorities.


Councillor Ashbee, Penny Button Director of Safer Neighbourhoods and Colin Carmichael, CEx responded as follows:


  • The council did not have any information about the health status of the man who had died at the Manston Centre;
  • The reopening of the processing centre had not been confirmed nor whether it would be stood down or not. At the moment it had not been stood down;
  • There were some adjustments that were being made to the site. The MP that covers Manston, Sir Roger Gale was in regular contact with the Home Office Secretary;
  • This was an appalling situation and the Council had taken a robust stance on the matter. The Home Office Secretary had listened to comments from the councils so far. He had also given a pledge that no new sites would be ulitised without giving councils at least 24 hours’ notice before moving in;
  • It was worth noting that the old Christ Church University Campus in Broadstairs was selected by a contractor employed by the Home Office to find sites. That was part of what the government called the dispersal programme which had nothing to do with the Manston Processing Centre. TDC had no knowledge of this placement;
  • The council after some discussions with the Housing team had already objected to the campus being used for the dispersal programme as this would have had an adverse effect on the council’s ability to find affordable accommodation for the local area’s housing emergency situations. This then prompted the Kent Leaders’ letter of objection to the Secretary;


  • The inspection was a food and hygiene inspection which looked at the source of food. Environmental Services worked with the UK HAS on this inspection. The government agency then passed on all the results to the operators of the site including the Home Office advising them on what they needed to do to ensure that the infectious disease controls were robust enough to stop the spread of any infections;
  • The 24 hours notice did not give the council the ability to refuse the use of local sites, except to point out, like with the use of the old Christ Church University Campus that this was in breach of planning policy. In this case the council would take enforcement action where there is a breach;
  • There were a number of refugee programmes in the country. There were the Afghan Refugees, Syrian Refugees, Ukrainian Refugees and the broader migration programme and each of them was being organised in a different way. This was confusing for councils and the public;
  • It was the organisation of the Manston Centre which appeared to be the problem. It was a combination of that the lack of resources of accommodation for people to move into;
  • The council’s understanding was that for the moment the Manston would continue to be used as a processing centre for new arrivals of asylum seekers;
  • The council’s understanding was that dispersal would be in other parts around the country, not just within Kent. For now the placements were taking place outside Kent;


  • The council had taken a robust stance on this matter for the good of the district and it was not a partisan stance;
  • When the Leader first took the matter up with Sir Roger Gale, the MP took the issue up in the Commons the next day;
  • MP Craig Mackinlay made some robust comments as well against the use of the old Christ Church University Campus in Broadstairs and it helped the campus being dropped off the list for the dispersal programme;
  • Both MPs have been very supportive of the council’s position on this matter;
  • The council was in contact with the current owners of the old Christ Church University Campus. The council was not clear as yet on the exact status of the agreement Clearsprings had for the university campus. It was the council’s understanding that Clearsprings had no more intention of using the campus again;
  • The council was not aware of any planning process that was followed regarding setting up of the processing centre at Manston. The advice council had which would be investigated further was that the Home Office would be able to use the site until next year, when they would need to obtain some kind of planning approval for their current use. However this approval did not necessarily need to come through TDC as it could be determined at the county of national level;
  • The Leader was happy to work with the Council’s Communications team and produce an outline of what had happened regarding this subject matter and share with the public.


The Chair thanked the Leader for the update and the Panel noted the report.


The meeting was adjourned at 20.08hrs