Date laid: 27 August 2021
Parliamentary procedure: negative
This instrument would extend the planning permission for the Napier Barracks in Folkestone to allow them to continue to be used as asylum accommodation until September 2026. We appreciate that the asylum accommodation at Napier Barracks was set up very quickly and has had some operational difficulties in consequence. However, the information that, in the opinion of several authorities including the High Court, the site was unsuitable and significant improvement was required should have been disclosed to Parliament given that the purpose of the instrument is to enable continued operation at that site for a further five years.
The date that the current planning permission expires has been known for 12 months: we found unconvincing the Home Office’s reasons for laying a potentially controversial instrument when Parliament was not sitting, particularly as the Home Office also states that the site may be used to pilot new models for “reception centres”.
In supplementary evidence the Home Office has explained the improvements it has introduced at the site, but the House may wish to satisfy itself whether these changes are sufficient to bring Napier Barracks up to the required standard.
This Order is drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation.
1.This instrument would extend the planning permission for the Napier Barracks in Folkestone with effect from 21 September 2021, to allow them to continue to be used as asylum accommodation until 20 September 2026.
2.The Explanatory Memorandum (EM) accompanying this instrument is thin, focusing on general issues about the immigration housing estate as a whole. We understand that the coronavirus pandemic has slowed applicants’ progress through the asylum system and that greater accommodation capacity is needed as a result. However, the EM gives no indication of the number of people or conditions at this specific site. In supplementary information, the Home Office informed us that in its current configuration there is capacity for 308 service users at Napier Barracks and that they are not detained there.
3.Paragraph 7.8 of the EM refers to a further programme of improvements to the living accommodation and amenities to be carried out at the site. But in response to questions about what changes were intended the Home Office replied:
“We are assessing a programme of refurbishment works to the existing internal accommodation. We will also consider additional works under Permitted Development rules for Crown land. As far as the current conditions of the barracks are concerned, the government’s assessment can be found in the government response to the recent HMIP report.”
This was the first indication that any concerns had been raised about the operation and suitability of the site.
4.We subsequently received a submission from the Jesuit Refugee Service,which raises a number of serious questions about the operation of the Napier Barracks site. In particular:
5.We asked the Home Office for further information on each of these concerns. Its response is published in full on our website. In summary the Home Office said:
The Home Office states it has taken measures to address the issues raised (these are explained in the full response).
6.We remain concerned that a rotating population at the facility may not have been properly vaccinated and may therefore represent an increased risk to the local residents. It appears to us that better arrangements for physical and mental health care are a matter of urgency and the House may wish to press the Minister on this matter.
7.We have also been contacted by the APPG on Immigration Detention which is currently conducting an Inquiry into “quasi detention”, in which evidence from those who have lived or worked at Napier Barracks features prominently. The interim report (mainly the written and oral evidence) concludes:
“They reported many issues and concerns, including unsanitary, crowded, ‘prison-like’ conditions at the sites; chronic levels of sleep deprivation; ineffective safeguarding; inadequate access to legal advice and healthcare; problematic changes in the processing of residents’ asylum claims; and intimidation and mistreatment of both residents and NGO workers supporting them. Much of the evidence provided during the sessions also highlighted the profoundly negative impacts the sites were having on the mental health of residents, many of whom were already vulnerable.”5
8.Paragraph 7.7 of the EM states that “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.” In supplementary information the Home Office stated that: “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.” It is not clear whether this piloting would happen at Napier itself or the additional capacity at Napier would allow sufficient leeway in the overall estate for piloting to happen elsewhere.
9.Nor do the responses of the Home Office make the explicit link to the potentially controversial nature of these pilot programmes. The section indicated in the New Plan refers to the intention to introduce “reception centres”:
“To help speed up processing of claims and the removal of people who do not have a legitimate need to claim asylum in the UK, we plan to introduce new asylum reception centres to provide basic accommodation and process claims. We will also maintain the facility to detain people where removal is possible within a reasonable timescale. The use of hotels to accommodate new arrivals who have entered the UK illegally will end.
The reception centre model, as used in many European countries including Denmark and Switzerland, would provide basic accommodation in line with our statutory obligations, and allow for decisions and any appeals following substantive rejection of an asylum claim to be processed fairly and quickly onsite. We will set in legislation a new fast-track appeals process–with safeguards to ensure procedural fairness.”
10.Paragraph 6.3 of the EM says: “The extension of permission through a Special Development Order has been chosen because it allows permission to be secured in a timely manner, in view of the urgent need to continue to use Napier for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute when the current planning permission expires.” Since the date that the current planning permission expires has been known for 12 months, we found this reason for laying a potentially controversial instrument when Parliament was not sitting unconvincing.
11.We also asked why, given the criticisms about the suitability of the premises, the extension was being sought for five years rather than a shorter period. In their supplementary response the Home Office stated:
“An extension for a five-year period enables the Home Office certainty of occupation and will allow the Department to plan for and invest in the site. There have been significant improvements to the Napier site over the past year in response to the previous criticisms. The investment programme will allow the Home Office to refurbish the accommodation and ensure it will continue to be fit for purpose.”
12.We appreciate that the asylum accommodation at Napier Barracks was set up very quickly and has had some operational difficulties in consequence. However, the information that, in the opinion of several authorities, including the High Court, the site was unsuitable and significant improvement was required, should have been disclosed to Parliament given that the purpose of the instrument is to enable continued operation at the site for a further five years. The APPG Inquiry is evidence of parliamentary concern about its operation, that the EM fails to address.
13.In supplementary evidence the Home Office has explained the improvements it has introduced at the site, but the House may wish to satisfy itself whether these changes are sufficient to bring Napier Barracks up to the required standard.
1 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An inspection of contingency asylum accommodation: HMIP report on Penally Camp and Napier Barracks (22 July 2021): [accessed 14 September 2021].
2 Published in full on our website: ‘Scrutiny evidence’: [accessed 15 September 2021].
3 In the case of R (NB & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department 3 June 2021.
4 Published in full on our website: ‘Scrutiny evidence’: [accessed 15 September 2021].
5 All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention, Inquiry into quasi-detention - Interim report (9 September 2021) .
6 HM Government, New Plan for Immigration - Policy Statement, CP 412 (March 2021) p 19-20: .