Asylum-seeker centre plans in disarray

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Proposals for a network of accommodation centres to house hundreds of asylum-seekers were in disarray last night after plans to convert a former RAF base were vetoed by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Proposals for a network of accommodation centres to house hundreds of asylum-seekers were in disarray last night after plans to convert a former RAF base were vetoed by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

He rejected a planning application to turn the former RAF Newton base in Bingham near Nottingham into a specialist centre for claimants.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced plans for four asylum centres three years ago to take the pressure of dealing with asylum-seekers off the South-east. Up to 750 asylum-seekers would be held in each of the centres, which would have in-house health and educational facilities, for up to six months while their claims were assessed. They would get a small allowance and be free to come and go.

Yesterday's decision left a question mark over the flagship policy, with two of the three sites abandoned or rejected. Only one site, in Bicester, Oxfordshire, has won planning permission. But today, Cherwell District Council will challenge that decision in the High Court.

Earlier this year ministers dropped plans for another centre in Gosport, Hampshire, after a wave of opposition.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "The Government's attempts to create centres up and down the country appear to be in tatters, with one cabinet minister shooting down the wishes of another. David Blunkett's plans to build a network of massive asylum centres in remote areas of the country was never a good idea."

Mr Prescott ruled the RAF Newton site was not well served by public transport and would damage the green belt. His decision appeared to echo the arguments of critics, who claimed that siting accommodation centres in out-of-town areas would leave asylum-seekers isolated.

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