There has been much controversy of Asylum accommodation of recent – from the expense of hotel rooms to the safety of “floating hostels”.  Alternative plans are also underway to use some of our derelict RAF bases, notably RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.  Up to 2,000 migrants could move into the site which was once home to the Red Arrows and the 617 Dambusters Squadron, whose crews flew the famous May 1943 German dam raids.

The first problem is that the local council (WLDC) had plans to regenerate the site already and a £300m investment scheme which will now get kicked into the long grass.  A judicial review from the council is set to be presented before the High Court in London on October 31 and November 1.

But set aside thought for local residents who have barely been engaged on plans.  The first wave of 50 migrants is expected to arrive by the end of this month so when Home Office meetings were set up to discuss the plans with local residents on 31st August, it enraged everybody.  

To make things worse, attendance to the meetings was also tightly controlled, with only 100 people allowed per session from the former service family accommodation, or select nearby villages. The Press was excluded from the sessions.

Cllr Paul Swift and Cllr Sabastian Hague, West Lindsey Council members for Dunholme and Welton (local areas excluded from attending the meetings), labelled the situation as deeply troubling.

They said: “We are profoundly disappointed and concerned by the Home Office’s repeated failure to deliver on their commitment to engage meaningfully with local communities surrounding RAF Scampton.  This breach of trust further exacerbates existing tensions and questions the government’s sincerity in taking into account public opinion. It is deeply troubling that the residents of Dunholme and Welton – two significant villages within walking distance of RAF Scampton – have been deliberately omitted from the list of invitees for the consultation day. This exclusion raises questions about the integrity and inclusivity of the consultation process.”

Looking at the exercise more closely, a message via the event’s private ticket link reads: “We would like to invite local residents to a community engagement event aimed at facilitating an informed dialogue around the development of the site at Scampton to be used for asylum accommodation”.  It comes after 20-30 portable buildings have already been installed on-site.

Our guess is that this was never meant to be a consultation, yet alone a meaningful consultation on the key “yes or no” issue.  The clue was in the scope of the invite: – “The event will provide you, the local community, with an opportunity to gain insight into the Home Office’s proposals, engage in thoughtful discussions and provide reassurances to your concerns.”

Consequently, local people have been left feeling that the Home Office are more concerned about the migrants than they are about the local residents.  Of course, this move also makes a mockery of the real consultation which was on the local plan.  Believe it or not, there was an informal “Asylum Dispersal Consultation” in some areas – it failed to ripple down and we’d argue was more focused on the shape of proposals than the substance of them.

So what are the lessons learned?  Well, it’s another case of be careful what you call something else you could be consulting involuntarily…and there are plenty of cracks for the lawyers!  And start your stakeholder engagement early! It may well have been better to do no engagement at all.  There’s also a lesson for local government – be sure to consult local people on consultations framed as between those in power.

Public meetings are great but they can’t scale – why on earth there was no digital mechanism is bewildering.  Excluding stakeholders who were indirectly impacted and focusing on those who were directly impacted was probably a result of poor logistics.  It’s pretty inexcusable going forward, that is assuming any stakeholder mapping was ever done.