ILPA responded to the Home Office’s planning consultation regarding the continued use of Napier Barracks at Folkestone, a former Ministry of Defence military barracks, to be used as accommodation for eligible people seeking asylum whilst their claim is pending.
ILPA does not consider this to be a meaningful consultation, and it is certainly not pre-legislative:
• It is being done retrospectively, as the Special Development Order to which it relates was laid before Parliament on 27 August 2021;
• The purpose of the consultation was unclear and unspecified;
• It is unclear who will consider the responses, and what the range of possible outcomes are;
• The length of the consultation is unjustifiably short.
The Crown granted temporary use of the barracks for six months from 21 September 2020, under Part 19, Class Q of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order (as amended) 2015. On 3 December 2020, the time limit was extended to 12 months, and ended on 20 September 2021. Throughout this period of time there were serious concerns regarding whether contingency accommodation was COVID-19 secure, as well as a major outbreak when more than a hundred people could not leave for approximately four weeks.
However, without consulting the public, the Home Office obtained permission to use Napier Barracks for a further period of five years through delegated legislation: The Town and Country Planning (Napier Barracks) Special Development Order 2021 (‘SDO’), laid before Parliament on 27 August 2021. The Order came into force on 21 September 2021 and granted temporary planning permission for a change of use to accommodation for persons seeking asylum to the end of 20 September 2026.
The Government has provided no evidence to show the resolution of the severe health, environmental, social, and wellbeing concerns regarding the use of Napier Barracks as asylum accommodation which have existed from the outset and have been acknowledged by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, as well as the High Court. In light of these, ILPA does not consider Napier Barracks to be suitable accommodation for any person seeking or refused asylum.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the SDO confirmed that the motivation for the use of Napier Barracks is not merely to address an emergency crisis with accommodation, but rather to assist the Government test and pilot its political agenda: ‘The use of the Napier site may also form part of the Home Office’s longer-term plans to reform the asylum system, as set out in the New Plan for Immigration published on 24 March 2021. The plan includes the provision, through the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, for the greater use of accommodation centres to provide housing and other services to asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. The continued use of the Napier site may enable the new processes to be tested and piloted, and so inform the final design of how accommodation centres will operate’.
ILPA is particularly concerned about the proposals to use Napier Barracks as a test site for several reasons:
These proposals are not contained within this consultation, and thus there can be no meaningful consultation in relation to these;
1. The proposal of ‘test and pilot’ at the expense of extremely vulnerable individuals, without there being proper mechanisms and processes in place to carry out risk assessments, would put these individuals at greater risk of harm; and
2. As the Home Office accepts it is not suitable for any person other than a single healthy adult male without further vulnerabilities, under the age of 65, it is an inappropriate testing ground for future accommodation centres.
3. Accordingly, it remains firmly the position of ILPA that the Home Office should house people seeking asylum in communities, not in institutional settings. The reason for this is that they are likely to be particularly vulnerable. All barracks, including Napier, are an extreme form of institutional accommodation. As we detail above, they can have a grave and dehumanising impact, negatively affect the wellbeing of vulnerable persons seeking asylum, and damage community cohesion
We maintain that the Home Office should continue to progress the backlog of asylum cases, thereby relieving the pressure on asylum accommodation, and permit people seeking asylum to work while their claims are being decided, reducing the need for asylum support to be provided by the Government. This would allow people seeking asylum to contribute through paying taxes and national insurance, instead of requiring support. It would support their integration and sense of dignity.
In its report in December 2021, the APPG on Immigration Detention stated that the government must ensure that ‘Napier Barracks is closed as asylum accommodation with immediate and permanent effect, and that people seeking asylum accommodated at Napier are moved directly to decent, safe housing in the community that allows them to live with dignity’.
ILPA opposes the use of Napier Barracks for asylum accommodation and supports the APPG Inquiry Panel in calling for its immediate and permanent closure.
The public consultation was open for 21 days, from 10 January 2022, to Saturday, 30 January 2022.