Councils drop proposed legal action over asylum seeker plans for RAF bases

Two councils have withdrawn separate proposed legal challenges over Home Office plans to house asylum seekers at former RAF bases.

West Lindsey District Council (WLDC) and Braintree District Council (BDC) were set to launch further challenges over the Government’s plans for RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, and RAF Wethersfield, near Braintree in Essex, respectively.

The councils lost a High Court battle in December when judge Mrs Justice Thornton ruled that the decision to house asylum seekers at the bases was lawful.

The Home Office secured Special Development Orders (SDOs) for both sites earlier this year, with Parliament granting planning permission after an environmental assessment of the department’s plans.

WLDC said in December that it would appeal against Mrs Justice Thornton’s ruling, and in February announced it would challenge the environmental assessment for the SDO for RAF Scampton, citing concerns over its “inadequacy”. BDC also planned to appeal against the High Court judgment.

But on Tuesday, WLDC said “outstanding legal action will be withdrawn” after an “agreement in principle” was reached with the Home Office to “explore the temporary, dual use” of RAF Scampton, which would allow for regeneration of parts of the site.

Trevor Young, leader of WLDC, said: “The specific details of the agreement are still being finalised, but this agreement paves the way forward for the short-term and long-term use of the site.

“The council have always been clear that whilst it is our view that the site is unsuitable for large-scale asylum accommodation, protecting the investment and regeneration plans for the site is a priority.

“This agreement provides the principles by which we can collaborate to unlock our investment and regeneration plan by working with the Home Office through a shared-use proposal.”

RAF Wethersfield in Essex
RAF Wethersfield in Essex (Joe Giddens/PA)

RAF Scampton was previously home to 617 “Dambuster” Squadron, and the Red Arrows.

The Home Office confirmed earlier this year that around 800 asylum seekers would be accommodated at the base, a reduction from 2,000, but this may increase to 1,100 if needed temporarily.

Under the SDO, the department can use the site until October 2027.

WLDC said that under the agreement, the Home Office “will retain just 10%” of the base, with the rest redeveloped as part of a £300 million investment plan.

Two listed hangars, the listed officers’ mess and the grave of 617 Squadron Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s dog would also be transferred to the authority’s control, with the remaining listed hangars to be transferred in 2026.

BDC said on Thursday that it would also withdraw its own legal challenge, claiming it was “no longer expedient”.

It said the granting of an SDO for the site made the arguments for a potential appeal against Mrs Justice Thornton’s ruling “academic”.

The authority added that it wanted to “reserve funding and resources in order to robustly consider any potential future enforcement action that may arise under the SDO”.

Graham Butland, leader of BDC, said: “We’ve stated since day one that we do not agree with the approach the Government has taken by using the site for large-scale asylum accommodation, and bypassing us as the local planning authority to grant itself permission, which meant the opportunity for communities’ voices to be heard was lost.

“We’ve spent the last few months carefully considering our legal challenge and with the Special Development Order now in place, we feel at this time it is within the best interest to safeguard our resources and money.

“The cost of the legal challenges has had to be met by taxpayers across the whole of the Braintree district, which has been an important consideration as part of this decision.”

The Home Office has been approached for comment.