Special Development Order for Wethersfield airfield means legal challenge “no longer expedient”

Wethersfield village sign - Image

Braintree District Council has announced today (Thursday, 30 May) it has withdrawn from the Judicial Review appeal process.

Braintree District Council has announced that it has withdrawn from the Judicial Review appeal process, challenging the Home Office of its use of Wethersfield airfield for asylum accommodation.  

The High Court granted the council and West Lindsey District Council permission to withdraw. The decision comes after the Home Office confirmed it had laid a Special Development Order (SDO) in Parliament, which came into force on 11 April 2024, and grants planning permission for the site to be used for asylum accommodation for a further three years with up to six months decommissioning.  

The council has spent the past few months reflecting on the detail contained within the Judicial Review judgement from December 2023, where Mrs Justice Thornton determined the Home Office acted lawfully when making the decision to use the site for this purpose and taking time to consider the council’s position. 

With the Home Office’s temporary planning permission through emergency permitted development rights (known as Class Q) now expired and the SDO now in place, it is no longer expedient for Braintree District Council to pursue the appeal. The Judicial Review was brought against the Home Office decision making around the use of Class Q and the interpretation of an emergency.  

With the introduction of the SDO, which grants planning permission for the site to be used for asylum accommodation for a further three years with up to six months decommissioning and regularises the development of the site, the council’s view is that it means those legal arguments brought through the judicial review process are now academic.   

The council believes it is important to preserve funding and resources in order to robustly consider any potential future enforcement action that may arise under the SDO. 

In making this decision, the council has had to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of continuing the legal action and determining whether the gain arising from the action is worth the risks associated such as additional costs incurred, adding to the council’s budget pressures, and impact on council resourcing. 

Councillor Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said: “We’ve stated since day one that we do not agree with the approach the government has taken by using the site for large scale asylum accommodation, and bypassing us as the local planning authority to grant itself permission, which meant the opportunity for communities’ voices to be heard was lost.  

“We’ve spent the last few months carefully considering our legal challenge and with the Special Development Order now in place, we feel at this time it is within the best interest to safeguard our resources and money. The cost of the legal challenges has had to be met by taxpayers across the whole of the Braintree District, which has been an important consideration as part of this decision. 

“It was important for us to challenge the decision taken by government and we have worked extremely hard over the past year to challenge the Home Office decision on the use of the site. We know how important this site is to our communities and we are committed to continuing to do all we can to continue to represent their views, maintain an open dialogue with the Home Office and work with our partner agencies to ensure the needs of our community and those living on site are met whilst the site is in operation.

"We will also continue to listen and work with the community regarding the future of the former RAF Wethersfield site, post the period of the SDO.” 

The council continues to hold the Home Office to account on its asylum accommodation centre.  

Councillor Butland added: “Braintree District Council has not been involved in the government’s SDO process so when it was laid to Parliament on 21 March, that was the first time we had seen its detail. We have since written to the Home Office on numerous occasions requesting urgent copies of all relevant documentation and information associated with the SDO to ensure its compliance and to support our duty in safeguarding the interests of the local community and those living or working on site. The Home Office have indicated they will be sharing this information with us, and we will continue to work behind the scenes and explore all routes to make sure the site is operating in accordance with the SDO.”  

The Home Office is responsible for the asylum accommodation centre and keeping residents updated. A monthly newsletter is published on the GOV website by the Home Office to provide residents with updated accurate and factual information about the asylum accommodation centre. 

Published: 30th May 2024