Ex-Home Secretary Priti Patel has written a furious public letter to her successor Suella Braverman and Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick over new reports that the Home Office is planning to house migrants on RAF bases for up to five years, attacking the government directly for being “evasive” and bypassing planning rules under the pretence of emergency need. Nothing like blue-on-blue melodrama to keep hacks busy over recess…
Patel suggests the government has been “secretive about its intentions” over plans to keep migrants on RAF Wethersfield for years longer than publicly stated, and accuses the Home Office of offering “no clarity” to Patel personally on the issue. She points out she asked three Written Questions on the time frame and funding for the project, and received “no definitive answer”…
“The lack of a direct response to my questions relating to the length of time the Home Office plans to use the site for asylum accommodation gives the impression that the Home Office is being evasive… Ministers have been evasive over their plans for the future of Wethersfield. They’ve bypassed the usual planning requirements, claimed the site is temporary for emergency use only and now we see they‘ve been planning to use the site for five years. This is unacceptable.”
The letter ends with four questions – which Patel politely asks to be answered “urgently”:
- How long the base will be used as a migrant camp?
- What does the government’s financial modelling on the camp say, including value for money?
- What is the average cost-per-bed?
- What are the details for the approach to planning for the site?
Read the furious letter below:
Dear Suella and Robert,
It was drawn to my attention this weekend that the Government have been planning to utilise the Wethersfield site for asylum accommodation for a period of five years and that those decisions and discussions had taken place in March, before the 29th March 2023 announcement that the site would be used for asylum accommodation. Throughout our discussions on the site and in the engagement that Home Office officials have had with local partners, no clarity has been provided on the length of time that the Home Office expect to use the site for this purpose.
I have asked Written Parliamentary Questions on the time frame that the Government expect to use the site for, the next five financial years of funding support to local partners, and the future planning arrangements as the Class Q temporary emergency use only applies for one year.
However, despite asking in these questions and raising this matter in correspondence, no definitive answer has been provided to me. It is therefore concerning to now see that it appears that the Home Office has put in place plans to use the site for asylum accommodation for a five year period and considers that this meets the value for money requirement. The lack of a direct response to my questions relatins to the length of time the Home Office plans to use the site for asylum accommodation gives the impression that the Home Office is being evasive.
Moreover, local partners have asked these questions as they need to know to assist them in planning service provision as well as examining future opportunities for alternative uses of the site. As you will know, the public communications from the Government have been ineffective and the latest version of the Home Office Factsheet on Wethersfield, copied below, refers to this issue of “temporary” but offers no clarity on how long “temporary” use of the site will be, stating only that the use of the site will be kept under”constant review.
“How many asylum seekers will be accommodated at the Wethersfield site and will it remain as ‘temporary’? The Home Office will be using a phased approach to moving people on site, increasing to 1,700 people over time. The use of the site will be kept under constant review.”
This suggests that the Government is being secretive about its intentions, but the local community and partners need to know what the Government’s plans are. In planning terms, the temporary Class Q use is for twelve months only but it seems that the Government are intending on using the site for longer than that, as confirmed in the reports this weekend. I would therefore as a matter of urgency welcome the following:
1) Details of the Government’s plans for the timescales which the use of Wethersfield for asylum accommodation has been forecast for, including confirming on the accuracy of this weekend’s media reports.
2)The Government’s financial modelling for the use of the site, the capital financing of the Wethersfield site, and the financial value for money assessment analysing the annualised costs and benefits over a five year period.
3) The assessment of the average costs per bedspace of using the Wethersfield site for asylum accommodation modelled for every one-hundred bed-spaces utilised up to the 1,700 capacity covering (a) the daily running costs; and (b) the spreading of capital costs apportioned per bedspace.
4) Details of the approach that the Government is taking to planning for the site and regularising the planning arrangements following the expiration of the Class Q emergency use provision next year.
Clear answers now need to be provided by the Home Office and the Government must be transparent rather than evasive. The lack of clarity has been alarming and staggering and I trust you will resolve this urgently. I look forward to your reply.