Updates: Wethersfield Airfield Asylum Accommodation

Wethersfield Accommodation Centre
Wethersfield Accommodation Centre

This page will be continually updated regarding the Home Office’s asylum seeker accommodation centre at Wethersfield Airfield.

Last updated: Friday 03 May 2024

Page Navigation: Who runs the centre? | Current situation | Background | Funding | Enforcement action | Prison proposals | Previous statements | Contact the Home Office


 

Who runs Wethersfield Asylum Centre?

Wethersfield asylum centre is a non-detained accommodation Home Office site established on the former RAF Wethersfield airfield. It is operated by Clearsprings Ready Homes on behalf of the Home Office.

The Home Office is responsible for keeping the community updated. It maintains webpages with information on the Wethersfield Asylum centre on the following topics: 

Braintree District Council is part of the Multi Agency Forum (MAF), a group that supports the centre's operational planning.

The MAF consists of representatives from: 

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Current situation 

The Home Office asylum accommodation centre has been housing asylum seekers since July 12, 2023. It was initially permitted under emergency permitted development rights (known as Class Q) with capacity of up to 1,700 service users.

On April 11, 2014, the Home Office had its permission extended via a Special Development Order (SDO) from the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

This extends the use of the asylum accommodation centre at Wethersfield Airfield for a further three years, with up to six months decommissioning following. It also limited the operational capacity to 800 users, with an additional 420 'surge' capacity. 

Both the Class Q and SDO permissions to use the former airfield as an asylum centre superseded Braintree District Council's jurisdiction as the planning authority. The Council opposes the centre on numerous grounds. Legal action is ongoing against the Home Office.

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Background 

Below is a brief timeline of events regarding the asylum accommodation site at Wethersfield:

Mar 29, 2023 

  • Immigration Minister announces Government's intention to secure accommodation for up to 1,700 asylum seekers at Wethersfield Airfield 
  • Braintree District Council reiterates view airfield is an unsuitable site, given the lack of capacity in local services, isolated location, size of the site and the impact the large development could have on the local community  
  • Legal proceedings start. Braintree District Council applies for injunction on the grounds Home Office could not rely on use of permitted development rights (known as Class Q) as way of getting around need for planning permission

Apr 19, 2023 

  • High Court hears injunction application to restrain Home Office from using Wethersfield airbase as asylum centre

Apr 21, 2023 

  • Injunction rejected by High Court, Council appeals decision

May 11, 2023

  • Council issues an application for judicial review challenging Home Office’s decision to use site for asylum accommodation 

Jun 12, 2023

  • Appeal heard by Court of Appeal, Rt Hon Sir Keith Lindblom reserves judgement on case

Jun 23, 2023

  • Court of Appeal declines Council's appeal

Jul 12, 2023 

  • First asylum seekers arrive at Wethersfield Airfield site 

Jul 12- 13, 2023

  • Judicial review appeal permission hearing heard at the High Court. Permission given to proceed with final hearing

Oct 31 - Nov 1, 2023

  • Judicial review is heard at the High Court challenging Home Office on their reliance of the use of permitted development rights (Class Q), the Environmental Impact Assessment screening direction and compliance with the Equality Impact Assessment.
  • Case is heard alongside another brought by a Wethersfield resident and one from West Lindsey District Council regarding their site at RAF Scampton. Judgement is reserved until later date

Dec 6, 2023

  • Judicial review finds Home Office acted lawfully in its decision to use RAF Wethersfield for accommodation for asylum seekers. Decision is appealed

Apr 11, 2024

  • Special Development Order (SDO) from the Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, comes into force. Formal cap on service users set at 800, with an additional 445 surge capacity 

Jun 11-12, 2024

  • Result from judicial review appeal due from Court of Appeal

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Funding

We have received payments of the Asylum Large Sites and Vessel Grant from the Home Office. It has requirements and criteria set by the Home Office that govern how the funding is utilised. The Home Office has stated it must be used to address pressures on local services associated with the asylum accommodation to support the outcomes of the large sites programme. It particular, this relates to the provision of statutory services provided by Braintree District Council and Essex County Council.

We continue to work with partner agencies to understand how best to utilise some of the funding to deliver discretionary activity to support a safe and self-sufficient site, while mitigating the surrounding community impact. There is an immediate need to support those located on the site and progress is being made to support activities offered by voluntary organisations, such as maths classes, English speaking lessons and sports activities. We continue to engage with the wider community to understand what the impacts are. A community grant scheme is planned for launch in Spring 2024.

We cannot use the grant to close our budget gap, or to cover legal costs incurred in bringing our challenges against the Home Office over its site use proposals.

This is one-off funding expected to cover the accommodation centre's lifetime. For 2023/24, we receive £3,500 per newly occupied bed space paid in arrears. We have not been provided with any long-term funding commitment from the Home Office beyond March 2024 and are requesting this clarity.

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Enforcement action

The Council has brought a number of legal challenges against the Home Office and their use of the Wethersfield site. We have continuously monitor all site activity and have considered bringing additional challenges as circumstances on site change. Currently, we are satisfied that we have robustly challenged the Home Office through its application for an Injunction, the appeal heard before the Court of Appeal and the Judicial Review.

Following Home Office decisions to use other large sites for the same purpose, we have been working closely with other similarly affected local authorities. We’re aware that some have issued enforcement notices in respect of activities taking place on those sites. However, it is important to recognise that the decision to take enforcement action of any kind is based on the facts that are present and relevant to that particular set of circumstances and the site. Steps taken by another local authority in relation to issues arising on one site does not mean that the same proceedings are automatically possible on another.  

Enforcement action should be proportionate to the breach of planning control to which it relates and taken when it is expedient to do so. The balance of public interest lies will vary from case to case. As the local planning authority, we do have the discretion to take enforcement action, when expedient to do so, having regard to the development plan and any other material considerations. Any legal challenge must be able to be robustly brought and concluded, and in bringing any proceedings we must carefully consider all possibilities. At this stage, we continue to monitor the position and consider all options available to us where circumstances allow and it is expedient to do so.

We have made our position clear; we do not support the use of the site for the accommodation of asylum seekers given the scale of the development, the lack of capacity in local services and its isolated location.

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Prison proposals 

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) informed us that 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. We will keep our MoJ proposals webpage updated with the latest information.

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Previous statements

Below are links to all press releases issued by Braintree District Council in regards to the Wethersfield Airfield Asylum centre. 

Please note this does not cover all public Council communications regarding the site. We employ a variety of messaging means, including responses to media enquiries, social media and e-newsletters. 

While the centre is run by ClearSprings Ready Homes on behalf of the Home Office, Braintree District Council is one of several stakeholders with statutory duties in relation to the site and its community impact. 
 

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Contact the Home Office

You can contact the Home Office direct at:

Home Office
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

Email: public.enquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk

Telephone: 020 7035 4848

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Published: 7th May 2024