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Evidence to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on RAF Wethersfield

Kamena Dorling
On 20 March 2024 the government laid two 'Special Development Orders' (SDOs) granting temporary planning permission for the accommodation of people seeking asylum at two former RAF sites at Wethersfield in Braintree and Scampton near Lincoln.

The planning permission is for the accommodation of up to 1,700 (Wethersfield) and 2,000 (Scampton) single male asylum seekers over the next three years (although in practice the government plans to accommodate a maximum of 800 people at each site).

In collaboration with Humans for Rights Network, The Fields Association and others, we submitted evidence to the House of Lords Secondary Scrutiny Committee outlining our concerns with The Town and Country Planning (Former RAF Airfield Wethersfield)(Accommodation for Asylum-Seekers etc.) Special Development Order 2024 (SI 2024/411).

Those concerns included the cost of Wethersfield, the use of the SDO procedure, the extent of consultation and engagement with local communities, concerns about safety, the suitability of the sites and the adequacy of healthcare provision. Our evidence included the findings from our December report 'Ghettoised and Traumatised' which highlighted that the use of Wethersfield airbase as a large ‘open-prison camp’ for men seeking asyum had caused profound harm to their mental health.

The Committee found that, given the strength of local opposition and the wide range of concerns raised, the government should "strengthen its engagement with local councils and communities and other stakeholders". The government should also "demonstrate that the sites are managed in a way that meets the standards to which the government has committed and protects the health, safety and wellbeing of staff and residents, especially those who are vulnerable, at the sites". It drew the SDOs "to the special attention of the House". 

10 MPs, including Conservative MPs and Labour leader Keir Starmer MP, have signed an Early Day Motion to oppose the SDO.