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Bypassing scrutiny: Challenging the development of harmful asylum accommodation centres on former military sites

Kamena Dorling
Kennith Rosario
Despite mounting opposition, the government remains determined to house people seeking asylum in large scale ‘accommodation centres’ on former military bases, causing significant harm to those who have already survived arduous journeys to reach the UK.  

RAF Wethersfield, in rural Essex, opened in July, and the Home Office continues its efforts to open a centre in RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. These camps, seen as a form of ‘quasi detention’, will be able to house around 1,700 and 2,000 asylum seekers respectively. But they are being met with fierce resistance. This week the High Court will hear claims for judicial review brought by a local Wethersfield resident and Braintree District Council, challenging the accommodation at Wethersfield on the grounds that the Home Secretary unlawfully used wartime emergency powers to bypass planning consultations with local councils. West Lindsey District Council brought a third judicial review challenging plans to accommodate asylum seekers at RAF Scampton. The hearings are scheduled for October 31 and November 1st.  

The Helen Bamber Foundation (HBF) has time and again highlighted and opposed this use of prison-style military sites that are experienced as detention and cause profound and irreparable harm to residents. Their conditions only worsen the longer they live in these camps. Poor living environments, lack of privacy, lack of access to healthcare, legal services and community support, and the lack of assessment of vulnerability and risk are just some of the reasons why this accommodation is wholly unsuitable and hostile for those seeking protection.  

Concerns about the government bypassing planning consultations have also increased in light of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2022, which received Royal Assent last week. Previous planning laws, and in particular the right of local residents to be heard on decisions which affect them, have proved a barrier to government attempts to institute large-scale harmful ‘accommodation’ facilities. But this Act removes the obligation to consult the public in local communities in England about the development of centres on ‘Crown land’, allowing the government to completely avoid public scrutiny. As the Home Office implements plans to close hotels across the UK that are housing people seeking asylum in favour of moving them into large-scale camps, it will be all the more necessary, and challenging, for local and national campaigners to highlight the harm this causes both to communities and to individuals. 

HBF calls on the UK government to stop the use of isolated former military sites and of large scale 'quasi-detention', instead using a community asylum housing model that allows people to live in dignity with full access to healthcare, legal advice and community support. All accommodation should be developed with input from both local residents and those in the asylum system. It is simply unacceptable to place people fleeing conflict and persecution in isolated camps which cause such distress and prevents them from receiving the care and support they need.