Council loses High Court fight over migrant plan for disused Dambuster airfield

Council bosses who argued that Government plans to use land which once formed part of a famous RAF base to house asylum seekers should be quashed have lost a High Court fight.

West Lindsey District Council, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, argued that a decision to use land at the disused RAF Scampton airfield, where the Dambusters were based during the Second World War, was unlawful.

A High Court judge ruled against the council on Wednesday.

Mrs Justice Thornton had considered arguments at a recent High Court hearing in in London.

RAF Scampton court case
A protest was held in Lincoln against the Government’s plan to house migrants at RAF Scampton (PA)

Braintree District Council in Essex had made a similar complaint in relation to plans for land that once formed part of RAF Wethersfield.

A local resident, Gabriel Clarke-Holland, also challenged plans for Wethersfield.

The judge also dismissed those claims.

Ministers had argued that the claims should be dismissed.

Lawyers representing councils made complaints about ministers’ use of planning rules. They said ministers could rely on “permitted development rights” because there is no “emergency”.

Lawyers also raised concerns about migrants being housed for longer than an initially envisaged 12 months.

Home Office ministers and Levelling Up, Housing and Communities ministers fought the claims.

“The Secretary of State for the Home Department has statutory responsibility to provide accommodation and other support to asylum seekers and their dependants who would otherwise be destitute,” explained Mrs Justice Thornton, in a written ruling.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of asylum seekers requiring accommodation has reached unprecedented levels.”

She added: “As a result of the strains on the asylum system, in January 2023, the Home Office approached the Ministry of Defence and other government departments enquiring about availability of Crown Estate assets which could be made suitable in the short term to assist with accommodating asylum seekers.

“A submission to the minister for immigration, dated January 27 2023, sought a decision to explore the use of RAF Wethersfield and RAF Scampton to accommodate single adult male asylum seekers.”

Braintree Council said it aimed to appeal and was “disappointed”.

Council leader Graham Butland said: “We have worked since March to make a strong case to the court that the Home Office acted unlawfully when making the decision to use RAF Wethersfield to house asylum seekers.

“We are of course disappointed with this outcome after months of work to present our case and evidence as we still believe it isn’t an appropriate site for a development of this scale given its remote location and the lack of capacity in local services.”

Nineteen Lancaster bombers, crewed by 133 airmen, took part in Operation Chastise on the night of May 16 1943, known as the Dambusters Raid.

Led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the raid targeted three dams in the industrialised Ruhr region of Germany using the “bouncing bomb” invented by Barnes Wallis.

They successfully breached the Mohne and Eder dams, and the Sorpe was damaged.

A spokeswoman for West Lindsey council said they would need to consider options.

Council leader Trevor Young added: “West Lindsey District Council remains firmly of the view that the site of RAF Scampton is not suitable for accommodating 2,000 single adult male asylum seekers.

“It was important for us to challenge the decision taken by the Government in March of this year and we made a strong case to the court.

“We understand the concerns and frustrations of our community.”