Thanet council leader Cllr Rick Everitt has called for the Home Office to be open with the public over its plans for the asylum processing centre at Manston.
Cllr Everitt wrote to then immigration minister Robert Jenrick MP about the matter on Monday 20 November.
The letter was prompted by the information learned through Kent County Council that the government is planning to build a secure migrant removal centre on the Manston site. The plans include accommodation for 360 people at the outset, later to rise to 700.
In August The Isle of Thanet News revealed that Manston processing centre was one of three sites where survey work was to be carried out as part of proposals for ‘rapid construction’ at immigration premises.
The Home Office agreed a £1.1million contract with UK construction firm Laing O’Rourke which was one of four firms appointed by the Ministry of Justice in 2021 for a £1billion New Prisons Programme.
The Home Office project was for “Design Services for a detained accommodation solution for the Home Office.”
As part of the contract site surveys were to be carried out at Bexhill-on-Sea at a disused prison and training centre proposed for asylum accommodation, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and Manston (processing centre) sites “to carry out a visual inspection, identifying any immediate obvious construction / logistics challenges and opportunities.”
Laing was also asked to “Produce preliminary overlays of Immigration Removal Centres onto a drawing for each site, identifying a) number of buildings, b) number of storeys and c) approximate total sq. footage for the Immigration Removal Centre.”
The contract, categorised as “Prison building construction” and “services related to the detention or rehabilitation of criminals” started in July and was due to finish in October.
A new contract published by government this month, with an estimated value excluding VAT of £700m over a term of 6 years says: “The Home Office is currently transforming the site at Manston to establish permanent, purpose-built facilities, coordinated by the Manston Transformation Programme.
“The Programme is looking for partner(s) to deliver a suitable operation and wrap around services for the operations at Western Jet Foil and Manston, plus Medical Services, for an initial term of 6 years with an option to extend for an additional 2 x 24 month periods.”
The deadline for expressions of interest is February 2.
Letter to government
Cllr Everitt’s letter comes on the heels of a meeting with Home Office officials, Cllr Everitt and council officers in September. Thanet council says that at the meeting officials had been very clear there were no plans to expand or vary the current use of the former Ministry of Defence site as a centre for processing new arrivals and pledged to report back if that changed.
The letter says concerns include:
- The site was previously used as a fire training school and there is a risk that the land is contaminated with related contaminants. We have seen no proposals about how any contamination is to be mitigated.
- The council works closely with PREVENT and the migrant centre is already considered to pose a high risk in relation to far right activity. The introduction of a new national removals centre has the potential to increase risk further. How is this to be mitigated?
- We have been assured that the centre will remain a secure facility. If this were to change it would have a significant impact on the local community.
- The proposed increase in numbers of people at the site poses an increased risk of spread of infectious disease. How is this risk to be managed?
- We will want to see the environmental impact of the proposals fully assessed and considered through the SDO process, covering issues such as light and noise pollution both from the Manston Centre and from adjacent uses impacting on people at the centre.
- The proposed capacity of the site will inevitably lead to a great number of vehicle movements and these impacts will also need to be considered and mitigated.
There has been no subsequent communication from the Home Office to the council leadership on the matter.
Cllr Everitt said: “Thanet District Council is the local planning authority and while we recognise that the government would use its own powers to grant itself consent, we have serious concerns about the suitability of this site for the purpose now being proposed.
“These include issues of historic land contamination, the potential for noise and light pollution, traffic impacts, and the spread of infectious diseases. Such a facility is also likely to be controversial and may become a focus for public demonstrations and political extremists.
“While we continue to liaise with both the county council and local MP Sir Roger Gale, it is in my view discourteous to this council and disrespectful to the people of Thanet that we have waited for so long to receive a direct response from the Home Office regarding these plans.
“For that reason we are disclosing what we do know to all members of the council and the wider public by publishing my letter to Robert Jenrick. Thanet has a right to be heard on this matter and we will see that it is.”
On the X platform North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has said: “Clear undertakings that there would be no `mission creep` at Manston have been given to me personally by successive Ministers. including Robert Jenrick and Suella Braverman speaking on behalf of the Government and I expect that those undertakings will be honoured.
“I will be meeting with the Home Secretary in the immediate future and in the meantime believe that speculation would be unwise and irresponsible.”
In October and November 2022, the centre became overwhelmed with some 4,000 people. It is designed to hold between 1,000 and 1,500 people. People were facing significantly longer periods in the centre due to the high numbers making small boat crossings. Issues included reported cases of diphtheria, scabies and norovirus.
A Home Office spokesperson previously said: “We are committed to the removal of foreign criminals and those with no right to be in the UK.
“Immigration removal centres play a vital role in controlling our borders and we have been finding further solutions to scale up our detention capacity.”
The Home Office says new detention sites under the contract are not yet confirmed and Manston currently continues to operate as a short term processing facility.
Update – Tuesday 19 December 2023
The council has now received a response to its letter dated 20 November 2023, to Robert Jenrick MP, then Minister of State for Immigration, regarding the Migrant Centre at Manston.
The response, from Michael Tomlinson KC MP, Minister for Illegal Migration, outlines a commitment to keep Thanet District Council and Kent County Council informed through regular planned meetings. The council will also be invited to contribute to government considerations regarding the site. The letter does not address any specific matters relating to the proposed plans.