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Legal bombshell hits Campsfield expansion plan

*Update 12th March *
The Campsfield House expansion plan is shelved by Home Secretary. See BBC Report here.

There will be a peaceful lobby (‘Say NO to the Government’s plan to double the size of Campsfield’) of Cherwell District Council Planning Committee, on Thursday 19th February 2015, Assemble3:15pm Council Offices, Bodicote House, Bodicote, Banbury OX15 4AA. Called by Oxford & District Trades Union Council.
Cherwell Planning Committee meet on Thursday 19 February to decide on the Home Office/Ministry of Justice application to double the size of Campsfield immigration detention centre near Kidlington.

Lawyers for campaigners objecting to the plan have written to the Council. In their opinion, the report of the Planning Officer which recommends approval of the application, is wrong in law and ‘the Developer simply and clearly fails to discharge its burden of proof.’

The 7-page letter dated 17 February 2015 was sent to the Chief Executive and the reporting Planning Officer of Cherwell District Council by London solicitors Leigh Day. Leigh Day are acting on behalf of Stop Campsfield Expansion, a local group of concerned individuals and organisations, which includes Asylum Welcome and Campaign to Close Campsfield.

At the heart of the letter is the failure by the applicants, in the view of the solicitors, to establish that there is a clear need for expansion. The letter states:

‘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.’

Bill MacKeith of the Campaign to Close Campfield said: ‘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.’

Update 19th February: DECISION ON CAMPSFIELD EXPANSION DEFERRED AS CAMPAIGNERS CRITICISE “FLAWED” OFFICERS’ REPORT

Cherwell District Councillors today voted to defer an application to more than double the size of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, due to late receipt of a legal letter by Leigh Day solicitors, representing members of the Stop Campsfield Expansion group.

The letter stated that the approach in the Officer’s Committee Report, prepared by Cherwell District Council and which made recommendations followed by elected Planning Committee Members, “is plainly wrong in law”. The Officer’s Committee Report advised Councillors not to consider relevant evidence, falsely suggested that Planning Matters such as the standard of accommodation were not actually planning matters, and encouraged them to accept Home Office policy statements blindly without the need for evidence.

Campaigners said this vindicated their approach: “This backs up what we’ve been saying from the beginning, that Councillors must consider all the evidence and make up their own minds whether there is a need to detain more migrants,” said Bill MacKeith of the Campaign to Close Campsfield. “Since the Home Office’s own figures confirm that they are releasing more and more detainees without taking further action against them, people who they should never have locked up in the first place, we are confident Councillors will eventually decide that there is no “Need”.”

At a lobby called by Oxford Trades Union Council outside the council offices in Bodicote, Banbury, 40-50 people heard speeches from members of the Movement for Justice; 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.