Braintree District Council has shared its view with the Home Office that its plans to seek planning permission for its asylum accommodation centre at Wethersfield airbase.
Braintree District Council has shared its view with the Home Office that its plans to seek planning permission for its asylum accommodation centre at Wethersfield airbase via a Special Development Order “runs against the spirit of national planning policy”.
This comes as Braintree District Council was invited to provide its comments from the Home Office on their intention to obtain a Special Development Order (SDO) for the site and extend the temporary use of the site for a further three years. An SDO is a form of secondary legislation that grants planning permission for specific kinds of development in a particular area.
The Home Office originally secured planning permission to use the site as asylum accommodation under permitted development rights (emergency powers known as Class Q) for 12 months up to April 2024, something the council felt the Home Office could not rely on as a way of getting around the need for planning permission, which was legally challenged by the council.
The response reiterates the council’s overall concerns about the SDO process, with a lack of information provided and inadequate time of seven working days to provide comments on a complex process, failing to ensure meaningful engagement.
Bypassing the local planning system and depriving the local community, residents and stakeholders of the opportunity to engage and express valid concerns has also been raised, with the fact their input should be “permitted and enabled”.
A lack of information and communication to the public has also been criticised, stating it is a “key failure of the SDO process”, namely on the Home Office’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening direction for the site and reassurances that habitats regulations, contamination and environmental impacts are being addressed appropriately.
The response references the council’s adopted Local Plan and development in Wethersfield, that states ‘in order to protect the intrinsic beauty of the countryside, development here is normally restricted to that which supports countryside uses’, as well as the work of local residents to bring forward a joint neighbourhood plan for Wethersfield and Finchingfield, which will form part of the council’s development plan.
Impacts of the development have also been raised in relation to heritage, noise, transport, lighting and habitats.
Councillor Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said: “We continue to have concerns over the complete lack of transparency and limited information being provided by the Home Office both to stakeholders and the local community on the development and the SDO process, and we’ve used this opportunity to reiterate this formally. They’ve also bypassed us as the local planning authority, as well as local residents, on the opportunity to engage and express their views which runs against the spirit of national planning policy.
“With the site still in operation, we continue to maintain an open dialogue and collaboration with the Home Office whilst holding them to account and doing our best to ensure that the needs of residents, both local people and those living at the site, are met.”
Braintree District Council’s response can be viewed on its website at www.braintree.gov.uk/wethersfieldairfield.