Government forced to pause plans to convert RAF Wethersfield

Government is forced to put plans to house hundreds of migrants on a former RAF airbase on temporary hold after council took out injunction to stop the move

  • Braintree District Council wants judges to block conversion of RAF Wethersfield 

The Government has been forced to put its controversial plan to house hundreds of asylum seekers on a former RAF airbase on hold after the council sought an injunction to stop the move.

Braintree District Council petitioned judges to block moves to convert RAF Wethersfield in Essex into temporary housing by arguing it was too isolated and a sudden rise in population would strain local services.  

The High Court has now granted the local authority a full injunction hearing against the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence to be held in twelve days’ time.

Work is said to have already started to convert the former airfield, with ten-foot high fencing set up around the perimeter. 

A spokesman for Braintree District Council said getting a full-day hearing on the legality of the Home Office’s actions means they will be able to get further information about how they site will be used.

Braintree District Council petitioned judges to block moves to convert RAF Wethersfield in Essex into temporary housing for asylum seekers 

The local  council argue the site, which is next to this picturesque village – is too isolated 

In the meantime, the Home Office has confirmed to the judge hearing the case that they will not move asylum seekers on to Wethersfield Airfield until after the court hearing.

The Home Office confirmed it had already begun converting the site, but vowed to respect the court’s decision. 

There has been a widespread outcry against the planned development, with residents complaining their ‘rights’ were not being respected. 

One woman told ITV News: ‘I don’t think they should be here. What are they going to do? There’s nothing here, is there? Absolutely nothing. They say about their rights, what about our rights? This is our country isn’t it?’

Another local said: ‘I don’t think it’s a matter of no refugees, it’s just not the right place for them.’

One woman added: ‘It’s not fair on the asylum seekers to start with. It’s inhuman, isn’t it, to put all these people in a place like that.’

Their concerns were mirrored by people living near RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, which has also been lined up to house asylum seekers. 

West Lindsey District Council fears the move will jeopardise a £300million regeneration project to turn the site into a heritage, aviation and research centre – and is also seeking a High Court injunction to block the move.

The Government is also facing a backlash over its bid to house 500 migrants on a barge to be moored at Portland Port in Dorset.

Locals have come out against the plans. Pictured are publicans Jackie Braithwaite and Paul Pilgrim with retired teacher Helen Turner 

Mayor of Portland, Peter Roper, said it will ‘put a load’ on local health services, which had ‘diminished’ over the years.

‘The fact sheet [about barge facilities] does say basic healthcare facilities… there’s not [any] definition of that,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘If there’s anything more serious, the individuals on the barge will probably have to go over to Weymouth or the Dorset General Hospital up in Dorchester.

‘It’s not just putting a load on the area of Portland but also of south Dorset itself.’

Asked if it would have an impact on tourism, the mayor said: ‘Going by hearsay that we’ve heard about other areas where asylum seekers have been housed in hotels, it has had a detrimental effect on the towns around those particular hotels.

‘Our tourism industry will be kicking off just about the time these first occupants will be coming onto the barge.

‘We have no idea what effect that will have on our tourism industry.’

The 306ft barge, ‘Bibby Stockholm’, will offer ‘basic and functional accommodation, healthcare provision, catering facilities and 24/7 security to minimise the disruption to local communities’, the Home Office has said.

It will be the first time asylum seekers in the UK have been housed aboard an accommodation barge, a type of vessel normally used for maritime or offshore workers.

: Accommodation blocks on the former air base in Wethersfield pictured earlier this month 

RAF Scampton (pictured) has been listed as one of the sites that will be used to house illegal migrants

Local Tory MP Richard Drax has said the multi-million pound plan could face legal action.

More than 400 migrants crossed the Channel by small boat on Wednesday as some warned they would flee if they were housed on a barge.

The Home Office confirmed 437 reached the UK – the highest daily total so far this year – bringing the running tally since the start of the year to 4,431.

But this year’s levels are still slightly below those seen at this point in 2022, following a prolonged period of choppy conditions on the Channel.

The previous daily high for this year was 321 people on January 25. 

More than 51,000 asylum seekers currently housed in hotels at a cost of more than £6million a day are not expected to be relocated to the new sites.

Last year saw a record 45,728 migrants cross the Channel, dwarfing 2021’s total of 28,526.

The record daily number of arrivals is 1,295 on August 22 last year.  

A Braintree District Council spokesman said: ‘While this means that its legal action has not yet stopped the Home Office from starting to prepare the site for asylum seeker accommodation, the court hearing will provide an opportunity for the issues to be fully considered and for the High Court to rule on the legalities of the proposal.

‘We still maintain that Wethersfield airfield is an unsuitable site to house asylum seekers, given the lack of capacity in local services, its isolated location and the fact that the scale of the development proposed could have a significant impact upon the local community.’

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