Plans to convert iconic Leytonstone hotel into asylum seeker hostel withdrawn

Plans to convert an iconic hotel in Waltham Forest into a hostel for asylum seekers have been withdrawn.

Jason Flack had applied for permission to change the use of the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel, in Whipps Cross Road, Leytonstone, from a public hotel to a hostel on April 22.

In a design statement, submitted to Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee, he said the council had refused several proposals to “improve” the historic hotel – including a new outdoor dining area – and he was now considering alternatives.

He wrote: “The applicant has tried various avenues to improve the property and to maintain the viability of its continued use as a hotel, which has been operating for over forty years.

“With the council’s refusal of the previous proposals, the applicant must now explore other options to maintain the viability of the business.”

The application had been rescinded by May 30, though no reason as to why was given.

The hotel, named after the beloved British filmmaker, who was born in Leytonstone, dates back to 1896. Originally a pair of villas, it was turned into a hotel in 1980 and remains the only one in Leytonstone Village.

Scores of hotels across the country were closed to the public in order to house asylum seekers, after a spike in migrant crossings in early 2023.

In March this year, the Home Office announced it would begin winding down the programme and would no longer be procuring new hotels for use. If the plans for Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel had been approved, there was no guarantee they would have been fruitful.

The controversial policy prompted large protests from residents and anti-migrant groups, though the department says it was only ever intended as a temporary measure.

The Home Office says it has “always been clear” that using of hotels as accommodation for asylum seekers was a “short-term measure to ensure that we met our statutory obligation to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute during a period of unprecedented numbers of small boat arrivals”.

It added: “As a result of the range of measures we have implemented to stop the boats, reform the management of asylum accommodation estate and the delivery of alternative forms of accommodation sites, we have been able to stop the procurement of new asylum hotels and begin closing some hotels.”

Plans to transfer migrants from a hotel in Peckham onto the Bibby Stockholm barge, currently moored in Dorset, were disrupted after protestors blocked the coach they were travelling on. A total of 45 activists were arrested.

Residents in Leytonstone were divided over the idea of converting the landmark hotel into a hostel for asylum seekers, with some arguing it could harm nearby homes and businesses.

A spokesperson for Forest Residents Association (FORA) said: “Whilst recognising the role that the local community can play to welcome and support potential asylum seekers, many of whom may well go on to contribute positively to our community, there is also the question of pragmatic management and real world potential impact.”

Concerns focused on the cultural significance of the building, as well as the potential influx of young men who may lack “social outlets”.

One resident said, prior to the withdrawal: “It’s terrible that a beautiful pub hotel, which has such a great history and has been recently done up magnificently, is basically for the cosh.”

Others supported the proposals. Another resident, who lives directly behind the hotel, said: “It has been underused since the Covid lockdown [in 2020] and, as a refugee hostel, it would provide a socially useful amenity.

“I am aware that some people might worry about the possible impact on the neighbourhood. We must remember that refugees are usually fleeing oppressive regimes. Let us welcome them, as we would hope to be welcomed if our lives were disrupted by wars and repression.”

Refugee Action, a national charity, attacked the use of hotels in March 2023, saying they were “de facto detention centres”.

In a report, they wrote: “In hotels people are held indefinitely, their freedom of movement and basic liberties are restricted. They are held in rooms where they are unable to receive guests or arrange childcare and they are told that if they leave for short periods, such as one or two days they will not be able to return.”

Though the proposals were withdrawn, the FORA spokesperson said it would keep a “watching brief” on the hotel and its future.

The Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel was approached for comment.

Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter