Council loses court appeal against plans to house asylum seekers at RAF Wethersfield

RAF Wethersfield in Essex Credit: PA

A council has lost again in a legal battle with the government against plans to house asylum seekers at an RAF base.

Braintree District Council appealed after losing its High Court bid in April, but its Court of Appeal challenge has also failed.

The Home Office wants to keep up to 1,700 male asylum seekers at Wethersfield Airfield in Essex, a former military airbase.

Under emergency powers, it can do so for up to 180 days.

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

The local authority’s lawyers asked a judge to grant it an injunction preventing the use of the 6.5-hectare site, arguing proposals would breach planning control.

But in April, a High Court judge concluded the court did not have the legal power to grant the council’s application.

Earlier this month, the council brought a challenge to the Court of Appeal - arguing the High Court judge does have the power to make an injunction.

Three judges dismissed the appeal on Friday afternoon.

In their ruling, they said: “Having considered all the submissions made to us, both written and oral, on the issue of jurisdiction, we find it impossible to accept the argument advanced on behalf of the council.”

They added: “It seems to us clear that the judge was right to conclude as he did on this issue, and that his essential reasons for doing so are sound and complete.”

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

The Home Office estimated there were 109,000 asylum seekers in need of accommodation and support as of the end of March - the highest on record.

It includes 48,000 being housed in hotels, at a total cost of £6.2 million a day.

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

Councillor Graham Butland, leader of Braintree District Council, said: “We are extremely disappointed with this outcome.”

“We now need to reflect on the detail contained within the judgment and consider the council’s position,” he added.

Mr Butland added there would be a hearing to ask for the green light to bring a separate legal challenge over the government plans next month.

He continued: “We continue to stand behind the community on the fact that the site is unsuitable for these plans and we are doing all we can through legal routes to prevent it from going ahead.

“This is all whilst we are continuing to work with our partners to mobilise should the plans progress, to support asylum seekers accommodated and ensure minimal impact on all those involved.”

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