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Asylum plan at historic RAF Scampton “unlawful,” court told 

RAF Scampton

Council leaders have urged the High Court to quash the government’s proposal to use the former RAF Scampton site in Lincolnshire for accommodating asylum seekers. West Lindsey District Council argues that the decision is “illegal.” 

Meanwhile, Braintree District Council in Essex and a local resident are also contesting plans for ex-RAF Wethersfield.

Government plans to use historic sites for additional 3 years

Home Office ministers and Levelling up, Housing and Communities ministers are opposing these objections. The government intends to use both sites for an additional three years beyond April 2024.

Richard Wald KC, representing West Lindsey District Council, informed the judge that council leaders are seeking a judicial review of the government’s choice. He mentioned that the local authority has devised an “ambitious £300m redevelopment plan” since the closure of RAF Scampton as an operational airbase was announced in 2018. 

“[The council] has to date invested over £370,000 in these once-in-a-generation redevelopment proposals as well as a vast amount of time and effort,” he said.

“Those investments and the opportunities offered by the redevelopment scheme proposed at RAF Scampton would be lost in the event that the site is used for the accommodation of asylum seekers.”

Government’s RAF Scampton decision “should be quashed” 

Wald argued that the government’s decision is “unlawful” and “should be quashed”.

Lawyers representing the two councils have criticised the ministers for using planning regulations, asserting that they cannot rely on “permitted development rights” as there was no “emergency” situation.

They also raised worries about housing migrants for longer than an initially planned 12 months, with the government wishing to use the base for three years. 

Ministers contend that the “emergency” argument is “misplaced”, citing a previous judge’s ruling on the matter and asserting the absence of evidence proving that ruling incorrect.

The court was informed that housing asylum seekers in hotels costs more than using Scampton and Wethersfield. With hotels averaging £151 per person per night to house asylum seekers in comparison to £141 at Scampton site and £122 at Wethersfield site. 

Internal discussions and public statements

At the hearing, Wald mentioned that there was an “odd disconnect” between the government’s internal discussions, which suggested multi-year usage of Scampton, and their public emphasis on the temporary nature of the project.

In Essex, the Home Office aims to accommodate up to 1,700 single male asylum seekers at MDP Wethersfield, near Braintree, a plan that faces opposition from the council and a local resident named Gabriel Clarke-Holland.

In Lincolnshire, the government’s proposal to house up to 2,000 asylum seekers on the former RAF Scampton site has prompted protests.

The High Court hearing will reconvene on Wednesday, with Home Office legal representatives anticipated to present their case.

Final thought

It is clear that the government’s plan to repurpose historic RAF sites like Scampton and Wethersfield to house asylum seekers is a matter of great importance. The opposition from council leaders, residents, and local authorities is certainly worthy of consideration.

It is clear that these sites have been designated for much-needed redevelopment, and significant investments have already been made with the potential to positively impact the local community. Neglecting these opportunities in favour of short-term housing is not only unfair but also a significant loss of valuable resources when other options are available. 

The government’s argument that there is an “emergency” situation requires careful scrutiny. There is a lack of substantial evidence to support this claim, and the extension of usage to three years from the initially planned 12 months raises doubts about their intentions. 

The discrepancy between the government’s internal discussions and their public statements is a cause for concern. It indicates a lack of transparency and raises questions about their true intentions regarding these historic sites.

In conclusion, the importance of housing asylum seekers cannot be understated. However, it is crucial that the government carefully reconsider its plan, giving due regard to the interests of local communities and the efficient utilisation of public resources, especially when more suitable alternatives should be explored.

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