A Croydon hotel housing hundreds of asylum seekers has been granted permission to build six new rooms despite claims of prison-like conditions and alleged abuse among residents.

The Best Western London Queens Hotel in Crystal Palace has housed hundreds of asylum seekers awaiting their claims to be processed since 2021, with Clearsprings managing the placement of people on behalf of the Home Office.

Reports of sexual harassment and assault on the premises, including the alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl, and ongoing concerns around the quality of the accommodation have led to some calling for the council to intervene.

Some campaigners have also said the 566 occupants of the hotel are currently living in ‘prison-like’ conditions.

The application to build the new rooms was granted by Croydon’s planning committee last Thursday (March 21) and will bring the total number up to 335 rooms.

Despite all councillors acknowledging that the plans did not break any planning rules, a number of the Labour committee members expressed concerns over the conditions in the hotel rather than of the plans themselves.

Councillor Clive Fraser said: “I think this hotel is a very poor reflection on us as a society and how we treat people, but also with planning we have limited powers to do anything about it.”

Councillor Leila Ben-Hassel added: “I understand that this is purely planning, but we’re not robots sitting on a committee, we’re human beings. For me, it’s very hard for me to just look at it as a hotel.”

During a scathing objection to the plans, Councillor Patsy Cummings told the committee of the cramped conditions inside the hotel’s rooms.

She said: “Some of the subterranean rooms have no windows, there are first-floor windows that can’t open, you can literally stand with your arm stretched and reach either side of the room.”

While previous applications made by the hotel planned for more subterranean rooms with no natural sunlight, the plans specified that all six rooms would have windows.

The plans will also see the demolition of the lower ground floor level and the construction of a new lower ground floor, which will also house a new dining area.

Cummings’ criticism was followed by an equally scathing rebuke from Adam Yasir, who said the ‘local authority needs to stand up to this private company (Clearsprings) that is profiting off the misery of our community’.

Yasir is a Croydon resident who co-chairs the Croydon Refugee and New Communities Forum (the Forum). He has been supporting those living at Queen’s Hotel for a number of years.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “The Forum stands firm in condemning the Croydon Council’s appalling decision to greenlight the expansion plans for the Best Western Queens Hotel London Crystal Palace.

"The move comes despite the glaringly inhumane conditions faced by the current 566 displaced individuals, including vulnerable children, who are crammed into this makeshift prison-like facility.

“The Forum expresses utter dismay at the council’s flagrant disregard for basic human rights, as evidenced by the squalid living conditions within the facility. Residents endure overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, rampant pest infestations, and perilous health hazards such as pervasive mould growth.

“Shockingly, reports of sexual harassment and assault within the premises paint a harrowing picture of neglect and systemic failure on the part of the authorities.

"Furthermore, the Forum’s extensive investigations have unveiled a disturbing reality for residents surrounding the hotel, who endure similar afflictions. This systemic failure to provide adequate housing for asylum seekers not only betrays the council’s duty of care but also endangers the safety and wellbeing of the broader community.”

Yasir also told the LDRS how in January 2022 a young Kurdish man tried to take his own life – he was one of the people living in a windowless basement room, according to the volunteer.

He added: “It was evidence of how their mental health has deteriorated.”

This concerning trend was followed by a worrying trend of abuse at the hotel, which has previously housed women and children in the same building as dangerous individuals.

This trend led to rape alarms being issued to residents last year.

Croydon’s sole Lib Dem councillor Claire Bonham, also attended the meeting last Thursday.

The hotel is housed in her Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward, and she has consistently spoken against the continued development of the site.

Whilst acknowledging the added rooms may alleviate the overcrowding issue, she also called for greater protection of the residents and for the development to not further interrupt the lives of residents in the nearby Church Road conservation area.

However, the committee’s Conservative majority pointed out that there are a number of other planning applications issued by the hotel that are currently outstanding and would interrupt residents regardless of this decision.

The site has been subject to a number of planning applications since 2018. While not all of these applications have been successful the hotel has slowly enlarged over recent years, leading to what councillor Cummings called ‘overdevelopment by stealth’.

This sentiment was shared by councillor Ben-Hasel, who said: “It is a heritage area. What we will see now is five rooms this year, then another three rooms the year after and before you know it the whole area is a massive overdevelopment.”

In response to questions of abuse on the premises, the Conservative members insisted it was a matter for the police and ignored Yasir’s call for an injunction to stop the hotel being used to house asylum seekers, as has been done with a hotel in Great Yarmouth.

Yasir also pointed to what he saw as Croydon Council’s wider failings to protect vulnerable families across the borough.

Speaking to the LDRS, he said: “It’s deeply disappointing that the Croydon Mayor and his administration refused to apply for funds from the Mayor of London recently, as part of the £126 million fund intended to build housing for those fleeing persecution.

“The most recent Home Office figures show that the cost of the current UK asylum system reached £3.96 billion in the 12 months to the end of June 2023, up from £2.12 billion in the same period a year earlier. This massive increase is contributed to by the usage of such inadequate and unlawful facilities.

“It’s evident from multiple legal cases and high court injunctions brought by an outer of London local authority that refused to allow atrocities to happen in their boroughs. We will fight this cowardly decision.”

In response to the decision, Yasir told the LDRS: “The Forum vows to pursue all available legal avenues to challenge the continued use of the hotel as temporary accommodation. Our community deserves better, and we will not rest until accountability is secured.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Despite the pressure facing the asylum system, we continue to provide accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute as we work to end the use of hotels.

"We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and supported asylum seekers have access to a 24/7 helpline to raise any concerns regarding the support they receive. Where concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered in a hotel we work with the provider to ensure these concerns are addressed.”

Croydon Council and Clearsprings were approached for comment but failed to respond in time for publication.