Council loses High Court bid to stop the Government housing asylum seekers at Wethersfield Airfield

People living near Wethersfield Airfield in Essex are campaigning against the government's plans to house asylum seekers there.
Credit: ITV News Anglia
Credit: ITV News Anglia

A Conservative council has lost its High Court bid to stop the government housing asylum seekers on a former military airbase.

Braintree District Council had asked judges to grant an injunction over the proposed use of Wethersfield Airfield to accommodate up to 1,700 male asylum seekers for up to 180 days each.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD)-owned land was one of the sites identified when immigration minister Robert Jenrick unveiled plans last month to house asylum seekers in disused military bases to reduce reliance on hotels.

The council argued that the need to house asylum seekers on the 6.5-hectare site did not count as an "emergency" under planning law.

But Mr Justice Waksman concluded that the court did not have the legal power to grant the council's application for an injunction, and therefore ruled in favour of the government.

Villagers say work has been ongoing on the site at Wethersfield Airfield in recent months. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The judge said the Home Office estimated there were 109,000 asylum seekers – the highest level on record – in need of accommodation and support as of the end of last month.

That number includes 48,000 being housed in hotels, at a total cost of £6.2m a day.

The court heard on Wednesday that Home Office operational plans are based on scenarios of up to 56,000 small boat arrivals in 2023, which would take the number of people needing accommodation and support to between 120,000 and 140,000.

Paul Brown KC, for the Home Office, told the court a number of factors had contributed to issues around accommodating asylum seekers, including the impact of the Covid pandemic, the Afghanistan relocation scheme and war in Ukraine.

The former RAF Wethersfield airbase in Essex. Credit: PA

The barrister argued that the current situation amounted to an “emergency” as it risked people being left homeless and destitute, and the government would be in breach of its duties to asylum seekers.

The council said it was disappointed at the ruling and still had concerns at the proposals.

“We remain of the view that Wethersfield Airfield is an unsuitable site, given the lack of capacity in local services, its isolated location, the size of the site, and the fact that the scale of the development proposed could have a significant impact upon the local community, and want to thank all those who have worked with us, including local residents, community groups, parish councils and MPs, up until this point," said a spokesman.

“We are grateful to the judge for granting the council’s application for an appeal and we will now be reflecting on any next steps.

He added that if the plans went ahead, the council would ask for more detail of the Home Office's proposals "so that we can support any asylum seekers accommodated as well as minimising any impacts on our local communities".

Wethersfield currently has around 700 residents living in homes surrounded by the Essex countryside.

The nearest town, Braintree, is around eight miles away and locals describe public transport as "virtually non-existent".

The government is considering housing up to 2,000 asylum seekers on the airfield.

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