Government faces legal fight against asylum seeker housing at RAF bases, warns Tory MP

·5 min read

Tory MPs on Wednesday threatened to rebel over plans to house thousands of asylum seekers at former RAF airfields in Essex and Lincolnshire.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick announced RAF Scampton near Lincoln, Wethersfield airfield in Essex and private land in Bexhill, East Sussex will be used as accommodation as he tries to reduce the Government’s £6.8m-a-day hotels bill.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also proposed Catterick Garrison barracks in his North Yorkshire constituency as a site to house asylum seekers, Mr Jenrick said, adding that the Government is “continuing to explore the possibility” of using boats as housing.

But the plans were savaged by Tory MPs and councillors.

Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh said West Lindsey District Council will issue an “immediate judicial review and injunction” against the “thoroughly bad decision” to house 1,500 asylum seekers at RAF Scampton.

“It is not based on good governance but the politics of trying to do something,” the Gainsborough MP said.

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

He argued that the site, which was home of the Dambusters during the Second World War and former Red Arrows HQ, had a £300m regeneration plan in place, which could be thrown into disarray by the move.

“Lincolnshire will fight and Lincolnshire will be proved right”, Sir Edward added.

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested RAF Wethersfield, near her constituency, would not be a suitable location and ask why the Government scrappped plans for a similar scheme in Linton-on-Ouse.

“I am an Essex MP and I’m the other MP for Braintree District,” she said. “Wethersfield is not in my constituency, it is in the constituency of the Foreign Secretary.

“Can I ask why it is deemed appropriate for asylum seeker accommodation to be placed in a rural village in Essex with single men where there is no infrastructure, no amenities, but it was not appropriate for somewhere like Linton-on-Ouse?”

Mr Jenrick paid tribute to Ms Patel for starting “this good work with her new plan for immigration”, adding: “I can say that we don’t have a current plan to proceed with Linton-on-Ouse, but the sites that I’ve announced today are just the first set that we would like to take forward.”

Conservative-run Braintree District Council said it has a legal challenge against the plans for Wethersfield airfield ready to be lodged with the High Court “imminently”.

During a meeting earlier this month, councillors heard that the Home Office had approached the local authority to discuss using the site for migrants while their claims for asylum are being determined.

Foreign Secretary and local MP James Cleverly has criticised the proposals as inappropriate because of “the remote nature of the site, limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network”.

The council said there has been “a number of meetings” with senior officials at the Home Office amid speculation asylum seekers could arrive at the site as early as next week.

A spokesman said: “Following the Council’s ongoing considerations and concerns relating to the Home Office proposals to secure accommodation for asylum seekers at Wethersfield Airfield, we are preparing to apply to the High Court for an interim injunction.

“This injunction challenges the Home Office proposals to place asylum seekers at Wethersfield Airfield.

“The papers are expected to be lodged with the High Court imminently. We would expect such an application would be heard within seven days, and we expect the matter to be heard by the High Court before any asylum seekers are occupied on site.”

Wethersfield airfield (PA)
Wethersfield airfield (PA)

Sir Edward met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this week to argue against RAF Scampton being used to house up to 1,500 people.

A deal was agreed in March to allow West Lindsey District Council to purchase the base from the Ministry of Defence for a £300m heritage and research space project.

A petition against the Home Office proposal to house asylum seekers on the site, potentially in cabin accommodation on the former runway, has reached some 50,000 signatures.

The Government recognises that “placing asylum seekers into local areas comes at a cost and so central Government will now provide further financial support” immigration minister Mr Jenrick told MPs.

“The enduring solution to stop the boats is to take the actions outlined in our Bill, but in the meantime it is right that we act to correct the injustice of the current situation,” he told MPs.

He added: “Today we’re announcing a new funding package which includes generous additional per bed payments and continuation of the funding for every new dispersal bed available.

“We will also pilot an additional incentive payment where those properties are made available faster, but faced with the scale of the challenge we must fundamentally alter our posture towards those who seek to enter our country illegally.

“This Government remains committed to meeting our legal obligations to those who would otherwise be destitute.”

It comes as London Councils said it was “very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options” for Afghan families who will be asked to leave hotels by the end of April Under plans aimed at moving refugees into more permanent accommodation.

The cross-party group, that represents 32 London boroughs, said it was rehoming refugees was “a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here”.

Around 8,000 Afghans are still in bridging hotels across the country.

A London Councils spokesman said: “Boroughs have also highlighted the many issues resulting from an approach that could lead to Afghan evacuees presenting as homeless. The closing of hotels without sufficient move-on support could impact a number of families and present significant challenges for local authorities.

“London is already dealing with the most severe housing pressures and highest homelessness rates in the country. On top of this, the majority of London's private sector rented homes are not affordable to households who receive Local Housing Allowance, which includes most Afghan evacuee families.

“It is vital that government continues to work with London boroughs and local authorities across the country closely and invests further resources to ensure every Afghan family is treated with dignity and that suitable longer-term accommodation is found for every family.”