Good morning, and welcome to the Brighton Seagull's Monday Briefing. A particularly good morning to friends of The Seagull Remi and Jamie whose birthdays are this week—happy birthday to them, and any other members of the Flock with birthdays at this time.
Before the news: if you haven't caught up on last week's excellent feature on St Margarets, the church on the site where Sussex Heights now stands, it's well worth your time!
News This Week
Possible toilet closures remain controversial among residents and councillors
Brighton residents have been in uproar over the planned closure of 18 public toilets across the city, with 4,644 signing a petition urging the council to reconsider.
This comes as the council continues to debate introducing charges for using the toilets, as well the closures themselves.
On Tuesday (17th), the environment, transport and sustainability committee debated the proposals, with Tory and Labour councillors voting against the plans and the Greens insisting they are needed for balancing the budget.
Among the planned toilet closures are 14 disabled toilet facilities, as well as many along the seafront and some in popular parks across the city including Preston Park (a parkrun location), Queen's Park Play Area, and St Ann's Well Gardens, as well as Black Rock, the only toilets available for those at the eastern end of the beach and for those using and working on the Volk's.
The full list of planned closed toilets are:
- Black Rock
- Blakers Park
- Easthill Park
- Hollingbury Park
- King Alfred
- Norton Road
- Ovingdean Undercliff
- Preston Park Chalet
- Queen’s Park Play Area
- Rottingdean Recreation Ground
- Rottingdean Undercliff
- Saltdean Oval
- St Ann’s Well Gardens
- Stanmer Village
- Vale Park
- Western Esplanade
- Wild Park
These could be closed as soon as Saturday 1st April.
The proposals will be discussed by the policy and resources committee on Thursday 9th February.
New wards, different polling stations and new voter ID regulations face the city this May
Potential chaos faces the city on election day in May, as new wards, new polling station locations and new voter ID regulations will all be in effect.
Labour councillor Amanda Evans shared her worries around this at the policy and resources committee meeting, as many people will face upwards of 20 minute walks to their nearest polling station, and concerns around many not knowing about the rules for voter ID.
She said how some voters in new wards faced long walks: some in Westdene and Hove Park would have a 28-minute walk, Rottingdean and West Saltdean 24-minutes, and the most inland residents of Whitehawk and Marine ward would have a 21-minute walk, or have to go by bus.
According to paragraph 3 of Chapter II of Handbook for Returning Officers, polling stations should be set up in such a manner that ordinarily no voter is required to travel more than two kilometres to reach their polling station.
Regarding photo ID, people can use passports, driving licenses, bus EEA identity cards, biometric resident's permits, older people's and disabled bus passes, and PASS cards, or they can register for a voter authority certificate online if they have none of the above.
🖋 News in Brief 🖋
- The Pizza Express that closed in Jubilee Square and was replaced by Lime Squeezy is going back into Jubilee Square. It closed in January 2021, and works are currently ongoing at the site.
- Afrori Books, the UK's biggest supplier of books by black authors (and based in Brighton), is looking for a new home for its shop after their rent was quadrupled by their landlord, along with with time restrictions put on how they use the space. Get in touch with them if you can help or have any ideas!
- A report put to the council's Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday 19th January revealed that council tax may be increased by 4.99%. The increases for each band annually would be: band A £70.47; band B £82.21; band C £93.96; band D £105.70; band E £129.19, band F £152.68, band G £176.17, and band H £211.40.
- The swimming pools at the King Alfred Leisure Centre will be closed until at least Easter due to ongoing boiler problems.
- Staff at both Brighton and Sussex universities will be striking on Wednesday 1st February, with 17 more dates to be announced by the UCU, in ongoing disputes over pensions, pay and conditions.
The Big One
What's happening? An update on the story we shared before Christmas about an estimated 130 children seeking asylum in Brighton and Hove who had gone missing from Hove hotels: an investigation by the Observer has revealed 'dozens' of the children have been kidnapped by gangs.
How was this found out? A whistleblower from Mitie, a contractor for the Home Office, revealed that:
Children are literally being picked up from outside the building, disappearing and not being found. They’re being taken from the street by traffickers.
What has the Home Office said? They've denied the kidnappings, and said children in their hotels can leave whenever they want to. However, the whistleblower has said this is a pattern repeated in Home Office hotels across the coast, having seen the same thing happen in Hythe, Kent.
In a comment, they said:
Local authorities have a statutory duty to protect all children, regardless of where they go missing from. In the concerning occasion when a child goes missing, they work closely with other local agencies, including the police, to urgently establish their whereabouts and ensure they are safe.
We have robust safeguarding procedures in place to ensure all children in our care are as safe and supported as possible as we seek urgent placements with a local authority.
How many children are now missing? The whereabouts of 79 of the 136 reported missing is still unknown.
Seriously? Even worse: according to the Observer investigation, the Home Office was warned 'repeatedly' by police about the possibility of children being targeted by gangs, and there is no new guidance for police for finding the missing children.
What has the council said? Brighton and Hove city council added:
We have been actively involved when any child is reported missing and have worked with the police and other agencies to try to trace them.
Brighton and Hove Labour Group of Councillors, and the Labour MPs for Hove and Brighton Kemptown said:
We hope the news of widespread kidnapping and trafficking of children from a run-down Hove ‘hotel’ between July 2021 and the present day will finally result in an investigation and the ending of the practice of housing children in hotels. 136 children have gone missing and 79 remain unaccounted for.
Labour have repeatedly warned the Home Office, local Green administration and council CEO that the existence of a ‘hotel’ housing unaccompanied children seeking asylum is unlawful and would attract serious organised criminals intent on exploitation. As recently as earlier this month the administration at Brighton & Hove City Council claimed the ‘hotel’ was not being targeted by serious crime and that children were leaving of their own accord.
The Home Office and council leadership are both denying corporate responsibility for these children and as a result of this mutual buck-passing they have jointly overseen industrial-scale child neglect.
Primary legislation requires that local authorities take responsibility for the welfare and safeguarding of all children within their area irrespective of how they arrived there. The city’s leadership has abdicated its statutory responsibilities to the missing children, and we call for the resignation of the Leader and Deputy Leader of the council and for a full inquiry into the role of the Home Office, the council and the police in this safeguarding catastrophe.