COUNCIL taxpayers will have to foot the as yet “unknown” costs of a legal challenge against the Home Office over the use of MDP Wethersfield as an asylum centre.

Addressing members at a full council meeting on December 11, Braintree Council leader Graham Butland said he was “disappointed” High Court judge Mrs Justice Thornton had dismissed the council’s legal challenge.

He said although final figures for the cost of the legal challenge remain “unknown”, they are currently estimated to be in the region of £234,000, a charge which will be divided and added on to council tax bills across the district.

The former RAF base, which is about six miles north-west of Braintree, was converted to asylum processing centre by the Home Office at the start of the year using emergency powers.

They allowed the Government to commission the site on a quick turnaround and bypassing the usual planning process. 

Braintree Council claimed the action was unlawful.

Reports in July of this year revealed that only a small number of asylum seekers had been accommodated at MDP Wethersfield when the centre first became operational, but most recently the estimate has risen to approximately 560 people at the site.

The centre's full capacity is 1,700 men.

Braintree and Witham Times: Braintree Council leader Graham ButlandBraintree Council leader Graham Butland (Image: N/A)

Addressing the council, Mr Butland said: “Since March (the council) has worked tirelessly on behalf of our communities to legally challenge the Home Office’s decision to use the Wethersfield site as a centre for asylum accommodation and to hold it to account.

“At the time, the High Court was satisfied that the council had an arguable case, and that there were key issues which needed to be fully considered through the judicial review.

“Following the judgement… we have sought permission from the High Court to appeal the decision, which has been granted.

He said the council has “a lot of work to do to digest” the full judgement and Mrs Justice Thornton’s reasoning.

Due to being unable to use funding provided by the Home Office for the asylum centre to cover legal costs, there would be no other option than to place an additional charge on every taxpayer in the district.

Mr Butland said if there is a second hearing following an appeal, it is unlikely to take place before June or July 2024.

Mr Butland said following that course of action would incur even greater costs for the council and taxpayers, which means pursuing further court judgements “will not be an easy decision to take”.