‘Failing to do basic research’: Home Office forced to delay plans to move asylum seekers into RAF base

‘Most intelligent people would assess the situation first and then make a decision,’ official says

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Friday 28 July 2023 17:13 BST
The Home Office believes 2,000 people can be housed at RAF Scampton
The Home Office believes 2,000 people can be housed at RAF Scampton (PA)

The Home Office has been forced to delay plans to move thousands of asylum seekers to a Lincolnshire RAF base, in the latest blow to Rishi Sunak’s controversial accommodation strategy.

Migrants will not be moved to Scampton until October, despite the Home Office previously claiming that transfers would start “this summer”, because required tests on buildings and utilities have not been carried out.

A local official told The Independent the government was seeing the “practical results” of its refusal not to consult authorities or go through the normal planning process, adding: “Most intelligent people would assess the situation first and then make a decision.”

There have also been delays to an asylum barge in Portland, which has not yet taken any migrants on board, and cases of scabies and tuberculosis among the first cohort of people housed at RAF Wethersfield in Essex.

Scampton Parish Council said that during a meeting on Thursday, government officials admitted necessary surveys had not been conducted on the 14 buildings to be used, and that required checks had not been carried out on gas, water and electricity supplies.

“It is not clear why the Home Office did not factor this activity into its plans at an earlier stage in the process,” a statement added.

It did not consult local authorities before announcing that Scampton would be used for asylum seekers in March, and then bypassed planning permission by declaring the accommodation situation an “emergency”.

The Home Office’s plans for RAF Scampton, as well as another airbase in Essex and a former Sussex prison, are subject to an upcoming High Court battle mounted by local councils and residents.

They are arguing that home secretary Suella Braverman’s “emergency” declaration is unlawful, while Scampton was already earmarked for a £300m regeneration programme that is now under threat.

The chair of the company behind the project told The Independent that infrastructure necessary to support 2,000 residents “just isn’t there”.

“What’s happening now is illustrative of the practical results of doing things back to front,” said Peter Hewitt, the chair of Scampton Holdings Ltd.

“Most intelligent people would assess the situation first and then make a decision, but it seems the government made a political decision and is now trying to backfill to make it work.”

Mr Hewitt accused the government of a “lack of common sense”, and “failing to do basic research before embarking on a project”.

Inside the Bibby Stockholm asylum barge

He said it was “scandalous” for the uncertainty to damage the regeneration project, which is hoped to drive local jobs and tourism.

The government has said using military bases and other large sites as asylum accommodation would be cheaper than hotels, which are currently costing around £6m a day.

Last Friday, a Home Office press release claimed that Scampton, Wethersfield and the Bibby Stockholm barge would house 3,000 asylum seekers “by the autumn”, but the figure now appears impossible to reach.

Officials have also purchased marquees to be used as accommodation for migrants in the event of a surge in Channel crossings overwhelming capacity.

The prime minister has vowed to “stop the boats” but more than 14,700 people have made the journey so far this year, and the total is nearing record-breaking figures seen in 2022.

The Independent understands that tents will only be used if the Manston initial processing facility hits capacity and there are not sufficient places in hotels or military sites to accommodate people.

But the plan has drawn strong criticism, with the Refugee Action charity calling it “yet another way the government has developed to demonise people seeking asylum”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Home Office was “flailing around” on asylum accommodation, and that the contingencies were “an admission that they are not expecting legislation that they promised would stop boat crossings to work”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites will end the use of expensive hotels to house those arriving in small boats. We continue to work closely with local authorities to address the local communities' concerns.

“We are working hard to deliver these sites as quickly as possible.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in