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Council postpones Campsfield verdict

The decision to expand the Campsfield Immigration Detention Centre has been postponed for at least a month, after a letter addressed to the Cherwell Planning Committee three days ago raised legal issues concerning insufficient consideration of evidence. The letter was written by a team of solicitors on behalf of the Stop Campsfield Expansion group.

The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice submitted a planning application to expand the detention centre last Autumn. Campsfield Immigration Detention Centre is a prison privately run by the British firm Mitie, and supervised by Home Office officials. It is one of 13 Immigration Removal Centres in the UK, and was opened in November 1993.

The all-male prison has the capacity to hold 216 detainees, making it one of the largest Immigration Detention Centres in Europe. Currently, 209 men are detained at the Centre. The proposed expansion would more than double this capacity, allowing a maximum of 556 people to be held on the site.

Since the planning application was submitted, it has met considerable opposition, with Cherwell Council receiving over 60 public objections. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke out against the proposed expansion in January, declaring, “The Home Office needs to improve the speed and accuracy of immigration and asylum decisions. This will reduce demand, help save money, and mean we can eventually close centres such as Campsfield House.”

The proposed expansion was to be discussed at the Cherwell Planning Committee meeting, held last night. However, Cherwell District councillors voted last night to defer the application until their next meeting, which will take place on March 19th.

Tim Flatman of the Stop Campsfield Expansion group, who attended the meeting, told Cherwell, “This was the seventh item on the agenda, but they [the Cherwell Planning Committee group] decided to defer it to a future meeting depending on how long legal proceedings take.”

He explained the decision “was deferred because of a legal letter sent by our solicitors Leigh Day”. The letter said that the approach of the Com- mittee report, which makes recommendations to the councillors, was wrong to say that councillors should accept the decision of the Home Office without assessing the situation themselves.

Flatman added, “Our solicitors argued that the councillors have a duty to consider the arguments for and against Campsfield’s expansion. If the councillors hadn’t got this wrong and had considered the evidence put before them, then a decision could have been made today [Thursday 19th February].

“The Home Office still haven’t provided any of the statistical evidence that we have asked for, which explains why Campsfield needs to be expanded. This is despite letters from Members of Parliament and requests for information which have passed their deadline for being replied to.

“This makes us suspicious of whether this modelling actually exists. We’ve provided evidence for why it does not need to be expanded, whereas none has been provided for why it should be.” 

Flatman summarised, “It’s important that councillors consider the fact that there is evi- dence on one side and not on the other of the argument.”

The crux of the argument in the solicitor’s letter to the Cherwell District Council detailed the failure by the applicants for the planning permission, in the view of the solicitors, to establish that there is a clear need for expansion.

The letter stated, “For the reasons set out below, the approach in the OCR [Officer’s Committee Report, which recommends approval of the application] is plainly wrong in law.

“Further, it is clear to us that on the information before the Council, this application should be refused. It is for the Developer to satisfy the Council that very special circumstances to justify this inappropriate development in the greenbelt are established. The information before the Council completely fails to do this.

“Put shortly, the Developer simply and clearly fails to discharge its burden of proof.”

The letter then listed legals errors made, specifying, “It is unreasonable and wrong in law to consider that Members [of the Council] are obliged… to accept an asserted ‘need’ because of ‘Government policy on immigration’ as justification for this development.”

Bill MacKeith, of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, commented, “The question now is, will the councillors have the sense to reject the advice given by their planning officer, and reject the application. Of course, we hope that they will.”

Oxford University Amnesty International (OUAI) have also taken a stance against the proposed expansion. Joanna Hynes, President of the OUAI, commented, “For us, this isn’t necessarily a bad outcome. Hopefully it shows that the Council is taking seriously the many concerns local and national organisations, as well as lawyers, have about the expansion plans and the flawed process this has followed. Support from Stop Campsfield Expansion was great today [Thursday 19th February] and we’ll be back when they next discuss the proposal.”

At a lobby called by Oxford Trades Union Council outside the Cherwell District Council offices in Bodicote, Banbury, approximately 50 people heard speeches from members of the Movement for Solidarity, as well as from Maurice Wren, head of the Refugee Council of England and Wales, and parliamentary candidates Sally Copley and Larry Sanders from the Labour and Green parties respectively.

Also opposed to the Campsfield expansion, Larry Sanders, the Green Party candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon in 2015, said that if the proposed plans for expansion are approved, “Kidlington and Cherwell council will be telling the world they are fine with locking people up without trial: Kidlington will become the suburban Guantanamo.”

A Home Office spokesman told Cherwell, “Immigration removal centres play an important role in our work to remove people who have no right to remain in the UK and it is right that we have the adequate facilities in place. A final decision is yet to be taken about the future of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre.” 

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