Court rules sale of hotel for asylum seekers must go ahead; Municipality may file lawsuit
The sale of the hotel meant to be used as reception for asylum seekers must go ahead as planned, a court in Almelo decided on Monday. The agency responsible for the reception of asylum seekers, COA, intends to accommodate them in the Hotel 't Elshuys in Albergen. The COA took the previous owner of the hotel to court when it turned out that she was trying to back out of the sale.
There has been unrest about the hotel since it became known that the Cabinet will bypass the municipality and will grant a permit for the site's reception of asylum seekers. Several protests have been organized since. It was also discovered on Monday morning that a fire flared up on the site near the hotel. An investigation is underway to determine whether the fire was deliberately set.
"The contacts between the broker and the COA show that it was always clear that COA wanted to use the hotel for reception with many more beds than the hotel has," said the court. "The COA has been open about its intentions with the hotel."
The summary proceedings attracted a great deal of interest. The court had to set up two overflow rooms with video feeds so that dozens of people could view the hearing.
The purchase agreement stipulates that the transfer of Hotel 't Elshuys was to take place on Monday. Last week, the owner informed news outlets by letter that she was canceling the sale because COA had not clearly stated in advance that 150 to 300 asylum seekers and/or refugees with residency status would be housed in the hotel. COA countered, saying it was always clear about this since the two sides first made contact in April.
The hotel had 28 rooms and 74 beds. The owner said she did not like that it would be scaled up to 200 people. "Two hundred is not possible. I can imagine that some rooms will have a bunk bed," she told the judge. She said she was completely taken aback when she "heard that there were plans for 300 people with units in the meadow," she continued. "You can't just set up units and receive people in the outskirts of Twente. I immediately sent an app asking if we could please cancel it."
The judge sided with the COA. The owner is obliged to hand over the hotel, or pay a penalty of 50,000 euros for each day that she does not comply.
The judge said to the owner, "I understand very well that you are shocked by the commotion that has arisen. But you could not foresee what would happen after the purchase agreement between the national government and the municipality of Tubbergen. And you could not foresee what it would mean for your position in the village community. You sold the hotel in good faith. You are not to blame. But the events after the conclusion of the purchase agreement also do not give you the right to withdraw from the sale."
Despite the legal victory on Monday, the municipality's objection to the hotel's use as an asylum reception center may become a new hurdle. The municipality of Tubbergen, which includes Albergen, may contest the environmental permit granted for the hotel, the mayor and aldermen their wrote in a letter to city council.
The letter states that legal options have been explored against the "decisions yet to be made," referring in part to the announcement by State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Asylum) that the use of the hotel will be changed via an environmental permit, so that asylum seekers can be accommodated.
"For the foreseeable future, it is important that the executive arm of the municipality receives the application for the environmental permit as quickly as possible and prepares for the advice to be given. In that advice from the Municipal Executive, other arguments can be submitted in addition to spatial arguments. Objections can then be lodged, and an appeal against the environmental permit can be filed," the letter stated.
A spokesperson for Tubbergen clarified that the municipality is still "in the phase of discussion". For example, a meeting is planned on Wednesday between the mayor of Tubbergen and the state secretary. According to the council, a consultation offers "the best chance" to realize the wishes of the board and the residents.
Milo Schoenmaker, the chair of COA, said the agency will soon enter into talks with the residents living around the hotel. "The ruling provides clarity. There was uncertainty about the sale, whether or not it should go ahead. The judge has indicated today that the sale can really go ahead and that the property must go to the COA. And at the same time, that means we do have the obligation to talk to local residents and to show that we are a good neighbor at many other locations, and that we can and want to be that also in Albergen," said Schoenmaker after the judge's verdict.
The COA will soon apply for a permit to use the hotel as a reception location. "We will do that for about 150 to 200 people who will fit in the hotel. Not yet outside, because that is a different procedure. But I think it is even more important that we start talking to the local residents. I have seen a lot of concerns, people who are really concerned that all this is happening. We have a lot of experience with asylum reception. We will show that we can do this well, that we can also make this a success in Albergen. But for that you have to start a conversation and that can we go after this statement."
The COA will also enter into discussions with the municipality of Tubbergen. The purchase was made without the knowledge of the municipality, which also caused unrest.
Reporting by ANP