Government Caps Illegal Immigrant Housing at Dambusters Airbase

The Home Office minister said that lowering the number from the original 2,000 demonstrated the government’s priority in listening to local concerns.
Government Caps Illegal Immigrant Housing at Dambusters Airbase
A view of RAF Scampton where the Dambusters were based during the Second World War, in Lincoln, England, on March 29, 2023. (Callum Parke/PA Wire)
Victoria Friedman

The number of illegal immigrants set to be housed at a historic air base has been capped at 800, down from 2,000, the government has said.

On Tuesday, Home Office minister Tom Pursglove confirmed that a maximum of 800 male asylum seekers will be housed at the disused RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, which was previously home to the Red Arrows and the famous World War II 617 Squadron known as the “Dambusters.”

Writing to Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh, Mr. Pursglove said that “regular occupancy” for the site would be capped.

But he added that if “capacity is required to deal with unexpected higher than forecast levels of intake,” some 300 extra bed spaces may be utilised for “short and defined periods of time.”

Locals have been fighting an ongoing battle to stop the plans since former immigration minister Robert Jenrick confirmed the air base was earmarked for use in April 2023.

West Lindsey District Council (WLDC) had plans for a regeneration investment for the site worth £300 million, which was put on hold when the announcement was made last year.

The council is concerned moving migrants into RAF Scampton will jeopardise the regeneration plans. There are also concerns about preserving the site, which includes the Grade II listed historic officers’ mess hall.

So far, no illegal immigrants have been moved onto the premises.

Listening to Local Concerns

Mr. Pursglove acknowledged that the move to cap the number of occupants was driven by local objections, writing: “It is important that we are reducing hotel costs and delivering our asylum accommodation sites in a safe and orderly manner.

“Implementing a cap on occupation demonstrates that our priority is listening to local concerns, mitigating impacts, and managing the site safely.”

Sir Edward said he was “pleased” by the compromise, but was “seeking further reassurance that they will be prohibited from going onto the former married quarters and that the accommodation they are housed in will be temporary.”

“Our chief concern remains that we now get the vast majority of the site released to West Lindsey District Council as soon as possible so that regeneration can be kickstarted without delay,” the Conservative MP for Gainsborough added.

Conservative Councillor Roger Patterson said that the cap was good news, but told The Telegraph: “They have wasted an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money to get to this point. It was turning into a white elephant.”

Legal Challenges

Last year, WLDC and Braintree District Council (BDC) both took legal action against the government to stop the Home Office using RAF Scampton and RAF Wethersfield in Essex as illegal immigrant accommodation. However, a High Court judge ruled in December 2023 that the government’s plans for both sites were lawful.

WLDC is appealing against the judgement and has served an enforcement and a stop notice, which restricts the Home Office from working on the air base. The Home Office is appealing the notices.

On Feb. 2, WLDC also launched a fresh legal bid to block government plans to extend the use of RAF Scampton as migrant accommodation until at least April 2027.

People first began to be moved onto RAF Wethersfield near Braintree in July 2023, with plans for it to eventually accommodate about 1,700 single men. BDC has also previously said it was seeking permission to appeal the High Court’s decision.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain committed to housing asylum seekers at Wethersfield and Scampton, and will manage occupancy at the sites while prioritising welfare and integration.

“We are working closely to listen to the local communities’ views and reduce the impact of these sites, including through providing onsite security and financial support.”

Last year, 29,437 migrants illegally arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel, down 36 percent on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022. The government has credited the decrease in crossing numbers to “tough measures” it had introduced, as well as a partnership with their French counterparts.
PA Media contributed to this report.