Plans to house up to 1,500 asylum seekers at a disused North Yorkshire RAF base were “scrapped” after the Ministry of Defence withdrew its offer of the site, Ben Wallace has confirmed.
The Defence Secretary told reporters he had “obligations to do something else with that site” but that others have been made available to the Home Office if it wishes to press ahead with the proposed reception centre in another location.
The controversial plans for an accommodation and processing centre in the small village of Linton-on-Ouse were announced by the Home Office in April, with around 60 men expected to be housed there by the end of May.
But the move was delayed, with a letter to Hambleton District Council in May saying “no final decision” about the site had been made by ministers.
The plans were met with significant opposition from residents of the village, near York, while the local authority said it would seek a judicial review of the proposals.
Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak said he would scrap the plan if he becomes prime minister.
The former chancellor, who represents the neighbouring North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, told the Yorkshire Post the centre “clearly does not have local support” and he would look for an “alternative solution”.
Asked about Mr Sunak’s comments during a visit to Huddersfield on Tuesday, Tory leadership rival Liz Truss told reporters: “My understanding from the Defence Secretary is that site is not going ahead. So it’s a moot point because it won’t be going forward.”
Mr Wallace confirmed during the same visit he had “withdrawn the offer of that site to the Home Office”.
He told reporters: “(Mr Sunak) didn’t oppose it when he was in Government, so that’s a new surprise, but I think, because he’s not in Government, he won’t know what’s been going on and I’ve withdrawn the offer to the Home Office for that site.
“It’s been with them for a number of months, I have obligations to do something else with that site and there are other sites that have been made available to the Home Office if they wish to take it up.”
Mr Wallace added: “It was one of, I think, five sites we offered at the time, when Rishi Sunak was in Government, and he was certainly supportive of it at the time. He isn’t now, interestingly enough.”
Olga Matthias, of the Linton-on-Ouse Action Group set up to oppose the plans, said she was “over the moon” at the news.
“We are delighted,” she told the PA news agency.
“The Government had effectively put the sword of Damocles over the whole village for the past four months, so the sense of relief that I have got has to be echoed by everybody else now the uncertainty has gone.
“We have said all along that this was ‘wrong plan, wrong place’ and if the Home Office had done even a tiny bit of research before the announcement they would have seen this was the wrong place.
“It’s a rural village of 600 people. You can’t triple the population of a village; we haven’t got the roads, we haven’t got the street lighting. There’s nothing around it but fields.
“Home Office guidance says asylum seekers should be placed in urban conurbations where they can access services.”
Ms Matthias said the group would not support a similar centre in a different location, saying: “It’s the wrong plan because they’re effectively asking the taxpayer to pay to accommodate people for up to two years or more because Home Office staff are not processing asylum applications quickly enough.”
Announcing the plans in April, the Home Office said the facility would provide “safe and cost-effective” accommodation for single adult men who are claiming asylum in the UK and meet suitability criteria.
Senior civil servants from the department were questioned for two hours by residents at Linton-on-Ouse Village Hall on May 19, with one saying the villagers were “in crisis”.
Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake, who previously told the Commons the village was the “wrong location” for the centre, tweeted: “Delighted #lintononouse plans now scrapped. Wonderful team effort.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is steadfastly committed to tackling illegal migration and stopping dangerous small boat crossings.
“The Government will continue to identify appropriate sites for Greek-style asylum reception centres which will play a key role in reducing the number of asylum seekers in hotels which cost the taxpayer more than £5 million each day.”
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