Saturday, February 24, 2024

Council votes to launch fresh legal challenge of Government’s long-term asylum plans for RAF Scampton

The Home Office has confirmed it is looking to secure planning permission for the use of RAF Scampton for asylum accommodation for three and a half years from April.

In an effort to secure the longer-term use of the site, the Home Office has disclosed a new Environmental Impact Assessment Screening Direction to West Lindsey District Council. This was followed up quickly with a letter from the Home Office confirming that they intend to regularise the development on site through a Special Development Order (SDO).

The council has previously made its view clear that it is against this method of obtaining planning permission by way of an SDO, citing concerns over lack of transparency and opportunity for public consultation.

This has now come to a head as the council, acknowledged as a key stakeholder, was invited to provide comments on the SDO. It has now shared robust concerns with the Home Office over the inadequacy of the assessment of impact over an extended period of time.

Following the submission of the consultation response, the council confirmed it has launched fresh Judicial Review proceedings against the Environmental Impact Assessment Screening Direction on which the SDO application will rely.

The consultation response from the council highlights key deficiencies in the assessment, citing amongst other issues:

  • Direct conflict with the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan and a fundamental undermining of the government’s own legislation and guidance.
  • Harm to listed buildings, monuments and their settings.
  • Inappropriate intensification of population in an unsustainable rural area.
  • Unacceptable impact on strategic infrastructure including highways, health, education and utilities.
  • Failure to meet requirements for the protection of important species and disregard for the new Biodiversity Net Gain requirements.

An SDO is a means by which the Government might secure planning permission through secondary legislation passed by Parliament, which, due to the short timescales, must be accompanied by a negative EIA Screening Direction.

The decision by the council to challenge that Screening Direction undermines the Government’s ability to pursue a Special Development Order, as it casts doubt over the evidence it seeks to rely on to push this proposal through.

Cllr Trevor Young, Leader of West Lindsey District Council, said: “The council’s decision demonstrates our commitment to hold the Government to account in relation to its decision to use RAF Scampton for the purposes of housing 2,000 male asylum seekers.

“The airbase is a place with significant history, as many of you will know, it was once home to the Dambusters. It is important for us to preserve the historical and architectural integrity of the listed structures and the setting at RAF Scampton as they contribute significantly to the cultural heritage of the area.

“Not only is the site of national importance it is also key to unlocking our £300 million regeneration investment in the district and it needs to be protected to safeguard the unique investment that is knocking at our door.”

Cllr Young is urging the Home Office to reconsider the SDO proposal for RAF Scampton.

He added: “The Government has not only failed to understand the complexity of the site through its inadequate Environment Impact Assessment, but it has also failed to engage properly with local people throughout the process leading to significant anxiety within the community.

“RAF Scampton is wholly unsuitable for the purpose they propose and as such they need to engage in meaningful consultation with all future stakeholders to ensure a balanced and sustainable approach to addressing asylum seeker accommodation needs is developed nationally. It can’t simply continue to be a postcode lottery based on the availability of Crown Land alone.”

The Home Office originally sought to secure planning permission to use the site as asylum accommodation under permitted development rights (emergency powers known as Class Q) for 12 months up to April 2024. The council, along with Braintree District Council and a local resident in Wethersfield challenged the use of Class Q through a Judicial Review, which is currently going through the appeal process.

Activity on site has been stalled due to the council serving a planning Enforcement and Stop Notice on the site, which the Home Office are appealing, but which currently restricts work being carried out for the purpose of standing up the site to house asylum seekers.

Sally Grindrod-Smith, Director for Planning, Regeneration and Communities at West Lindsey District Council, said: “We continue to hold the view that RAF Scampton is an unsuitable site for asylum seeker accommodation.

“The Government’s own assessment of the impacts through their EIA Screen Direction fails to address our long held and fundamental concerns. As such it is important that we continue to make this point and where necessary challenge their decisions through the court.

“We also consider that using an SDO by means of securing planning approval for this major development is completely inappropriate and goes against everything the planning process stands for.”

The scale of the proposed development is classed as a ‘major development’ encompassing approximately 320ha of land and will accommodate 2,000 asylum seekers.

To put this into context, if this goes ahead it will create what is defined as a ‘large village’ in West Lindsey within the open countryside overnight, with no consideration for the significant harm it will have on the nationally significant heritage located on the site or the negative impact on the nearby communities and the infrastructure they rely upon, including highways, health and schools.

 

Image courtesy of West Lindsey District Council

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