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Home » Asylum Seekers Plan For Disused RAF Stations Lawful, Judge Rules

Asylum Seekers Plan For Disused RAF Stations Lawful, Judge Rules

Image source, PA Media/Getty Images

Image caption, The councils and a local resident in Essex claimed the government’s plan to use RAF Scampton and MDP Wethersfield was unlawful

By Tom Airey & PA Media

BBC News

Government plans to use two former RAF stations to house thousands of asylum seekers can progress, the High Court has ruled.

At a recent London hearing, West Lindsey District Council argued the use of land at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire should be stopped.

Braintree District Council in Essex also challenged changes to ex-RAF Wethersfield, along with a resident.

However, Mrs Justice Thornton dismissed the claims for a judicial review.

The Home Office is expected to apply for a Special Development Order to use MDP Wethersfield and RAF Scampton as asylum centres for three years until 2027.

Up to 2,000 male asylum seekers could be housed at RAF Scampton, where the Dambusters were based during World War Two, when operational.

The BBC understands there are currently between 400 and 500 asylum seekers living in refurbished barracks and portable buildings at MDP Wethersfield.

Plans are in place to house up to 1,700 single men at the Essex site.

At the two-day hearing on 31 October and 1 November, lawyers representing the councils made complaints about ministers’ use of emergency planning rules and also raised concerns about migrants being housed for longer than an initially envisaged 12 months.

Gabriel Clarke-Holland, a resident of Braintree in Essex, also challenged the plans for Wethersfield after crowdfunding his legal action.

Ministers from the Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities fought the claims.

In her ruling, Mrs Justice Thornton wrote: “The Secretary of State for the Home Department has statutory responsibility to provide accommodation and other support to asylum seekers and their dependants who would otherwise be destitute.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of asylum seekers requiring accommodation has reached unprecedented levels.

“As a result of the strains on the asylum system, in January 2023, the Home Office approached the Ministry of Defence and other government departments enquiring about availability of Crown Estate assets which could be made suitable in the short term to assist with accommodating asylum seekers.

“A submission to the minister for immigration, dated 27 January 2023, sought a decision to explore the use of RAF Wethersfield and RAF Scampton to accommodate single adult male asylum seekers.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, MDP Wethersfield, near Braintree, Essex, is already being used to house asylum seekers

Following the ruling, Braintree District Council requested permission from the High Court to appeal against the decision and said it was awaiting “to hear more if this is granted”.

Mr Clarke-Holland also announced his intention to appeal.

“The evidence strongly suggests that we were misled by the government, especially about how long they planned to use the site, and this is harming vulnerable asylum seekers on the site, local residents and services,” he said.

Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said he was “disappointed at the result” for RAF Scampton, which is in his constituency.

“I understand West Lindsey District Council intends to appeal and has solid grounds for doing so,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

In March, West Lindsey District Council agreed a £300m deal with Scampton Holdings Limited to revive the site as a business, aerospace and heritage centre.

Sir Edward previously said he was concerned the “site might start deteriorating” if the asylum centre plans went ahead and Scampton Holdings “might give up”.