A DAMNING report says the cost of turning a former airbase into a centre for asylum seekers is £44million than originally planned.

Government spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO), published a report on the demand for asylum accommodation, the Home Office’s approach to delivering large sites and efforts to slash the use of hotels for immigrants.

The report says the initial set-up costs for Wethersfield were initially estimated at about £5million, but have since increased to £49million.

The report says the Home Office has reduced the number of hotels used for asylum accommodation.

But its two large sites – Wethersfield and the Bibby Stockholm barge - were accommodating just 576 people by the end of January, far lower than the 1,445 initially planned.

The NAO said it now appears “inevitable” these two sites, as well as a centre at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire which has not yet opened, will cost more than using hotels.

A former student accommodation block in Huddersfield is earmarked as a fourth large centre for asylum seekers.

Braintree and Witham Times: Airbase - MDP Wethersfield was accommodating 576 asylum seekers out of an expected 1,445 by the end of JanuaryAirbase - MDP Wethersfield was accommodating 576 asylum seekers out of an expected 1,445 by the end of January (Image: PA)

The Home Office’s latest assessments claim the four large sites will cost £46million more than using hotels.

Witham MP Dame Priti Patel said: "I have consistently pressed senior Home Office Ministers who decided to use this site about these costs, and they spent the last year being evasive and covering up these extraordinary sums and refusing to give answers.

“This damning report from the National Audit Office has exposed how poor planning and a failure to get a grip has led to irresponsible public spending with costs spiralling out of control.

“This catalogue of failure has stemmed from former ministers chasing headlines.”

Braintree Council has been fighting the Wethersfield proposal since its announcement.

The council is set to appeal against a High Court decision which ruled against its challenge to use the site as an asylum centre.

Braintree and Witham Times: Boss - Braintree Council leader Graham ButlandBoss - Braintree Council leader Graham Butland (Image: N/A)

Braintree Council leader Graham Butland said: “We have been clear since Wethersfield Airfield is an unsuitable site, given the lack of capacity in local services, its isolated location, the size of the site and the impact the scale of the development could have on the community.

“We have also continued to push for regular, open and transparent local engagement with residents and community groups.

“Whilst Braintree Council does not support the use of the site, with the site still in operation, we continue to maintain an open dialogue with the Home Office, whilst holding them to account and doing our best, working alongside partner agencies, to ensure the needs of residents, both local people and those living at the site, are met.”

The NAO report states the Home Office was expecting to spend £4.7billion on asylum support, with £3.1billion of this attributed to hotel accommodation in the financial year to the end of March 2024.

In the same time frame, it is expected to have spent £230million on developing its four designated large sites.

Braintree and Witham Times: Aerial - the set up cost for Wethersfield was £44 million more than plannedAerial - the set up cost for Wethersfield was £44 million more than planned (Image: PA)

Responding to the latest report, a Home Office spokesman said: “We have always been clear the use of asylum hotels is unacceptable, and that’s why we acted swiftly to reduce the impact on local communities by moving asylum seekers on to barges and former military sites.

“While we must provide adequate accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute, thanks to the actions we have taken to maximise use of existing space and our work to cut small boat crossings by a third last year, the cost of hotels will fall – and we are now closing dozens of asylum hotels every month to return them to communities.

“But we have further to go, which is why we are passing the Safety of Rwanda Bill, deterring Channel crossings and get flights off to Rwanda – because it is only when people are discouraged from taking those journeys we can end asylum hotel use for good.

“While the NAO’s figures include set-up costs, it is currently better value for money for the taxpayer to continue with these sites than to use hotels.”