Ellie Ames 31 January 2024

Council slams ‘lack of transparency’ over RAF Wethersfield extension

Council slams ‘lack of transparency’ over RAF Wethersfield extension image
Image: Ben Gingell / Shutterstock.com

Braintree District Council has criticised the Home Office after its plans emerged to extend the use of a former airfield for asylum accommodation by three years.

The Home Office intends to obtain a special development order (SDO) for the RAF Wethersfield site, which grants permission for development without requiring primary legislation.

SDOs have remained ‘in relative obscurity’ since their introduction in the 1970s, according to the Centre for Policy Studies.

Braintree DC believes the move by the Home Office ‘runs against the spirit of national planning policy’.

Planning permission to use RAF Wethersfield to accommodate asylum seekers was originally granted under permitted development rights – emergency powers known as Class Q – for 12 months up to April 2024.

On several occasions, Braintree DC legally challenged this decision, but asylum seekers were moved onto the site in July 2023.

The Essex authority has now raised concerns that the SDO process bypasses the local planning system and deprives communities and stakeholders of the opportunity to engage.

Council leader Graham Butland said: ‘We continue to have concerns over the complete lack of transparency and limited information being provided by the Home Office both to stakeholders and the local community on the development and the SDO process.’

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites provides more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats while reducing the use of hotels.

‘We understand the concerns of local communities and are liaising with councils and local services to manage the impact of using these sites on a temporary basis.’

Last year, lawyers for West Lindsey District Council obtained correspondence showing that civil servants and ministers privately planned a multi-year asylum project at the former RAF Scampton base despite publicly using Class Q powers to circumvent local planning permission.

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