Work to turn Dambusters air base into asylum camp halted over planning breach

Planning stop notices at the gates of RAF Scampton
Planning stop notices at the gates of RAF Scampton - West Lindsey district council/PA

The Home Office has been forced to halt all work to convert an historic RAF base into an asylum camp after the local council accused it of breaching planning permission.

West Lindsey district council issued an enforcement and a stop notice on Friday preventing the alterations at RAF Scampton, the former home of the Second World War Dambusters’ squadron in Lincolnshire, which is being turned into a camp for up to 2,000 Channel migrants.

The council said the Home Office had carried out work that was in breach of planning rules including a “change of use” of the site for longer than the 12 months allowed under regulations.

The notice meant the ministry and its contractors had to immediately stop any work or risk breaking the law. The move by the council casts doubt on the Home Office being able to open it as an asylum camp in October, as planned.

It is one of two former RAF bases being converted to house migrants. Around 100 people have so far been moved onto the second site at RAF Wethersfield in Essex, which once full is designed for 1,700.

Discovery of legionella

Asylum seekers at a third site, the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, were evacuated in August after the discovery of legionella. The Home Office aims to reopen it after new water tests. The three sites are part of the Government’s efforts to reduce the £8 million cost of housing 51,000 migrants in hotels.

West Lindsey council is also mounting a legal challenge in October to block the asylum camp permanently. It claims the Home Office has acted unlawfully by failing to take account of its £300 million plan to preserve the base’s historic runway as an aerospace hub and new national heritage site, which will collapse as a result.

The enforcement and stop notices were issued after a site visit by council officials on Sept 14 and followed a “temporary” stop notice 10 days ago by the council, which focused on work on listed buildings and important archeological areas of the former RAF base.

Sally Grindrod-Smith, the council’s director of planning, said: “At the site visit last week, officers observed significant works on site that were not considered as part of the Home Office’s Environmental Impact Assessment Screening Request. This means that the impact of the development has not been properly assessed.

“Emergency permitted development rights are only available to the government in a genuine emergency, which has not been proven and when a negative environmental impact assessment screening decision is in place.

“Additionally, it is clear from the scale of works on site that this development is not limited to a temporary period of 12 months.”

Failure to comply

The notices require the Home Office to stop using the site as accommodation for asylum seekers, cease all work on setting up Portacabins for the migrants ends “intrusive” groundworks and restore it to its original condition.

Cllr Trevor Young, the leader of West Lindsey council, said failure to comply with the stop notice would be an offence. “From the moment the decision to use RAF Scampton as an asylum accommodation centre was made, the council have been clear that this is not an appropriate site for this purpose,” he said.

“Use of the site for asylum accommodation puts at risk the £300 million investment proposal. It is incredibly disappointing that despite repeated assurances that the site would be safe, legal and compliant, the Home Office has failed to secure appropriate planning permission or to adequately assess the impact of their proposals.”

The council has received confirmation for a judicial review at the High Court to take place on Oct 31 and Nov 1.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites provides cheaper and more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats whilst helping to reduce the use of hotels.

“We are confident our project, which will house asylum seekers in basic, safe and secure accommodation, meets the planning requirements.”