Government confirm its plans for the ongoing use of Wethersfield Airfield

Central government have confirmed its ongoing plans for their continued use of the Wethersfield Airfield site, for both the Home Office asylum accommodation centre and MoJ prison proposals.

This week the Home Office confirmed with Braintree District Council that it has laid a Special Development Order (SDO) which gives planning permission for the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to extend the use of the asylum accommodation centre at Wethersfield Airfield for a further three years, with up to six months decommissioning following.

This comes as their emergency permitted development rights (known as Class Q) expire in April. 

The Council was given the opportunity to provide its comments on the SDO process where it raised various concerns, including the lack of information initially provided to us and the failure to ensure meaningful engagement with stakeholders and the local community. However, this is the first time the Council has seen the detail of the SDO.

A letter has also been received from the MoJ by Braintree District Council stating they are not looking to use the Wethersfield airfield site to progress two new prisons whilst the Home Office are on site, but still maintain an interest in Wethersfield as part of their long-term prison strategy.

This comes after they held a public consultation in 2021 asking for resident’s views on their plans to develop two new prisons on the site and the district council requesting for updates on their position over the past three years.  

Braintree District Council still believes the MoJ would need to submit a planning application to Braintree District Council, as the local planning authority, if they wanted to pursue any potential prison plans in the future. This would give the council, residents, businesses and stakeholders the opportunity to submit their views and comments through the planning process.

Councillor Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said: “Having direction on the government’s ongoing plans for its use of the Wethersfield airfield site will finally give our communities clarity, especially for the MoJ prison proposals since they announced the plans over three years ago.

“As we’ve said since day one, the Home Office have bypassed us as the local planning authority and applied directly to the Secretary of State as a way of getting around planning permission for asylum accommodation which we don’t think is appropriate, and therefore the opportunity for the communities’ voices to be heard was lost. Braintree District Council did not have sight of the SDO prior to it being laid and will be reviewing its content and considering any implications arising from it.

“We still oppose the use of the site for the purposes of asylum accommodation, for the many reasons we have outlined before including its isolated location, scale of development and lack of capacity in local services. With the site in operation, we continue to share and raise feedback from the community with the Home Office and work alongside partner agencies to ensure that the needs of residents, both local people and those living at the site, are met.”

Following a review of occupancy capacity at Wethersfield site, the Home Office confirmed they have decided to cap the regular occupancy to a maximum of 800 service users from the original 1,700 to reduce impact on the local community.

A monthly newsletter is published on the GOV website which provides updated accurate and factual information about the asylum accommodation centre.

The latest update on the prison proposals can be found on the council webpage including the recent letter from the MoJ.

Published: 22nd March 2024