A council where the Home Office plans to turn an RAF base into asylum seeker accommodation says the “irrational” move will put at risk a £300m regeneration project for the site.
A new local plan, with proposals to re-develop RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, was formally adopted on Thursday as part of requirements for councils to set out how development, including housing and infrastructure, will best benefit that area for the next 15 years.
But West Lindsey District Council, which is led by the Conservatives, said that plan is under threat because the Home Office is turning the base, home of the Dambusters Raid squadron and the Red Arrows’ base until two weeks ago, into housing for asylum seekers.
It launched legal action against the Home Office at the end of last month, when the asylum seeker announcement was made, as it said that would affect plans for the £300m regeneration of the base.
The scheme for the 800-acre site, which would include a museum, new homes, entertainment venues, preservation of historic buildings, and retention of the runway, was announced a few days before the Home Office revealed it will use RAF Scampton as an asylum base.
A government document announcing its plan said the site would accommodate “single adult male” asylum seekers and it would use a “phased approach”, starting with about 200 people being moved to the site before increasing to 2,000 over time.
The Home Office said it recognises the importance of RAF Scampton’s “rich heritage” and is committed to preserving it, having “undertaken significant engagement with Historic England”.
But after approving the local plan on Thursday, the council said it has had little correspondence from the Home Office, just a pre-action protocol letter saying the government could not provide a substantive response until 6 April – and would seek to reply by 14 April.
However, the council’s initial letter placed a deadline of 4pm on 6 April for Home Secretary Suella Braverman to reply by.
The council said it maintains the use of RAF Scampton for asylum seeker housing is “irrational” and accused the Home Office of failing to gain appropriate planning permission to use the site.
It added that it is not just the council that has concerns but the local community as well.
Locals told Sky News of their anger earlier this month, including Sarah Carter, who lives opposite the base.
“If the government actually came and visited the camp, they would see that is a ludicrous idea,” Mrs Carter said.
“We do not have the infrastructure to support these people that are coming over in a crisis.
“We’ve got a £300m investment for the area and the government is jeopardising it.”
Council calls for Home Office to halt the plan
Sally Grindrod-Smith, the council’s director of planning, regeneration and communities, said in light of the lack of correspondence, the council is calling on the Home Office to “take no steps towards the use of RAF Scampton until a substantive response” has been provided.
She said: “Adopting a site-specific policy for RAF Scampton, based on sound evidence and shaped by our community, has been an aspiration of the council since the closure of the base was announced [in 2018].
“Today is a landmark moment as any future proposals for the site will be required to follow due process and conform with this policy.
“This work demonstrates that the council takes a considered, planned and strategic approach to planning for the long-term development and regeneration needs of our communities.
“It is clear the Home Office’s recent announcement regarding RAF Scampton has not considered the key material planning matters and has not paid due attention to statutory processes.”
She added the council will “continue to strongly contest” the Home Office’s decision.
Read more: Conservative-led Essex council launches legal action against Home Office
Government must reduce hotel use
A Home Office spokesman said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites will provide cheaper, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats whilst helping to reduce the use of hotels.
“These accommodation sites will house asylum seekers in basic, safe and secure accommodation as they await a decision on their claim.
“We understand the concerns of local communities and will work closely with councils and key partners to manage the impact of using these sites, including liaising with local police to make sure appropriate arrangements are in place.”
The government’s plan to use RAF Scampton is part of an initiative it launched in March to reduce the cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels, which is costing the taxpayer about £7m a day.