Controversial Home Office plans to house 200 asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood near Bedford are under “investigation” by the borough council.
But a meeting heard that the likelihood of Bedford Council being able to carry out planning enforcement action against the Home Office is “challenging” because they would need to ask for permission to do that.
Cllr Henry Vann (Lib Dem, De Parys), the council’s portfolio holder for planning told Wednesday’s meeting of the full council that an investigation is “ongoing” to see if the Home Office has to apply for planning permission to make changes at the controversial immigration and detention centre.
Cllr Vann said: “That investigation is ongoing and my understanding is that because the Crown has a legitimate interest, the likelihood of us being able to enforce is challenging.
“I think if I read the statute correctly, and I have had a briefing on this from officers, we would also have to ask the Crown for permission to take enforcement against the Crown.
“It is a slightly surreal, almost Gilbert and Sullivan-esque approach towards the law unfortunately. It is a hugely serious issue and it is a hugely disappointing approach the Home office has taken.
He added: “That case is open as far as I am concerned.”
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) had raised the issue of plans for the site at Twinwoods Business Park, in Thurleigh Road, Milton Ernest.
She called them “awful plans to extend Yarl’s Wood to put 200 asylum seekers in Portacabins”.
She described the plans as “inhumane and wrong” and asked whether the council can take enforcement action to make them apply for planning permission.
Cllr Vann said he shared “many of the concerns” raised by faith leaders in a recent letter.
But he added that “if we are not able to, we’re not able to by law”.
The Home Office has previously responded to concerns over the plans, telling the local media that all accommodation will be “covid-secure, safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped in line with existing standards and contractual requirements.
“The safety and security of the local community, asylum seekers, staff and visitors are of paramount importance and we are committed to open and transparent engagement,” he said.
The Home Office was invited to comment on whether it would be applying for planning permission and whether the public would be allowed to be involved in determining the future of Yarl’s Wood.
The department responded with a statement from the minister for immigration compliance and the courts, Chris Philp.
Mr Philip said: “We have a statutory duty to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.
“We are working to reduce the cost of the asylum system, which is under significant pressure, and are considering a number of accommodation options while we fix the broken asylum system to make it firmer and fairer.”
The UK Government has a statutory legal duty to provide accommodation to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with accommodation.
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter