Home Office says asylum ‘emergency’ allows it to bypass planning laws and build migrant centre at RAF base

The government has said it should be allowed to bypass usual planning permission laws to build “emergency” asylum accommodation.

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The Home Office has argued that the current asylum housing situation is an “emergency” as it fights a council’s attempt to block a migrant centre being built at an RAF base.

Braintree District Council in Essex is bringing legal action against the government over its proposed use of Wethersfield Airfield to house up to 1,700 asylum seekers for up to 180 days each. It comes after the Home Office announced its plans to place migrants in housing at military sites to reduce the number staying at hotels.

The High Court on Wednesday (19 April) heard Braintree Council’s application for an injuction against the development, with lawyer Wayne Beglan, for the council, arguing that the plans are a breach of planning permission legislation.

However, the Home Office is looking to have the injuction thrown out - arguing that it should be allowed to bypass normal planning laws due to the severity of the situation, under a provision known as ‘Class Q’. Paul Brown KC, for the Home Office, said that it is Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s position that “the situation generally is an emergency” and creates the risk of homelessness.

He also pointed out that as Home Secretary, Braverman has a legal duty to stop asylum seekers becoming destitute. “These people would be homeless if the Secretary of State cannot provide accommodation,” he said. “If they are destitute, they are more likely to suffer illness or death”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Credit: Getty ImagesHome Secretary Suella Braverman. Credit: Getty Images
Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Credit: Getty Images

Braintree Council meanwhile have countered that the asylum seeker housing situation doesn’t legally constitute an “emergency”. Mr Beglan instead argued that the development is “cost-driven”, questioning whether the Home Office is only looking to use this site because it is spending “more money than it wants” on housing migrants in hotels.

He said that the asylum housing situation is a result of the government’s own policy decisions, such as Rwanda, the asylum backlog, and the its failure to provide proper accommodation. Class Q “does not encompass a nationwide lack of provision of housing,” he insisted, adding that “mere pressure on resources is not an emergency.”

Something else that emerged during the hearing was that the government plans to use the Class Q emergency planning provision to build more asylum seeker accommodation in other sites. Judge Mr Justice Waksman asked the Home Office: “With RAF Scampton and others, is the Secretary of State’s intention to do the same thing as here?”

Mr Brown replied, “yes”, and then answered “potentially yes” when asked as a follow-up: “You would be using same Class Q argument for any number of different sites?”

Judge Mr Justice Waksman has reserved his judgment to a later date, possibly Friday (21 April). In the meantime, the Home Office has given a formal undertaking that while development will continue, no asylum seekers will be moved to the Essex site until the judgement or 3 May - whichever is sooner.

Prior to the hearing, a spokesperson for Braintree Council commented: “We remain of the view 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.”

In written submissions, the Home Office’s lawyer Mr Brown said: “The current circumstances constitute an ’emergency’ within the Class Q definition.

“At the very least, the unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers which the Secretary of State is legally obliged to support combined with the absence of suitable accommodation [can be classified] as an ‘event or situation’ which ‘may cause’ the homelessness of large numbers of asylum seekers, which can in turn lead to ‘human illness or injury’ and, sadly, ‘loss of human life’.”

He continued: “Given the number of asylum seekers concerned, and the vulnerability of that cohort, the scale of damage is potentially significant, i.e. the situation ‘threatens serious damage’ to human welfare.”