Coltishall future decision awaited

A decision on whether to build a detention centre for immigrants on part of the former RAF Coltishall site is still several weeks away, it has been revealed.

A decision on whether to build a detention centre for immigrants on part of the former RAF Coltishall site is still several weeks away, it was revealed yesterday.

Senior members of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), the arm of the Home Office responsible for immigration and asylum, travelled to Norfolk yesterday to answer questions from a range of councillors, MPs and other parties about possible plans for a holding centre.

The regular “taskforce” gathering saw Brian Pollett and Gary Murphy, a director and deputy director from IND, come to Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall.

Afterwards, Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said: “We were given a lot of information about the different possible permutations of expanding at current centres such as Yarl's Wood, the use of moored barges and

moving into new sites such as RAF Coltishall.

“They are at the stage of putting together options to the IND board for a decision. I expect they will present all the positives and negatives of each possibility, with cost being one of the most important factors.

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“Brian Pollett said he was pushing like mad for an early decision. The end of spring was mentioned, which may technically be the middle of June, but I think they are working more towards the middle or end of May.”

Asked whether he was concerned about how long the decision was taking, Mr Simpson said: “No, I don't think we are being strung out, slippage is understandable and they are taking our concerns seriously. But I understand people's frustrations and we do need a decision by the end of the spring.”

Mr Simpson said he was told that if the IND wanted the site, it would take between “12 and 19 months” to get the centre up and running. In the meantime, the parts of the site they did not want would be resold.

If the IND had no use for the site, it would be handed back to the Ministry of Defence, who would in turn request their property arm Defence Estates to take on the sale of the site. Defence Estates would need two weeks to put the 750-acre site back on the market, followed by three to four months to allow potential buyers to consider their options.

It was also revealed that although the former airbase has been passed from the MoD to the Home Office, no money has yet changed hands.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he was given the impression the base was “a serious option” and he felt the final decision would be in the hands of the IND's “political masters”.

He added: “Using RAF Coltishall could mean a quick delivery and would not be expensive in comparison to other options, but on the other hand the location is not good.

“The key is for the decision to be made via a thorough process and not through crisis management. So although I may not be happy at how long it is taking, I would prefer for it to be done in the right way.”