Home Office mixed messages about airbase

The Home Office confirmed yesterday it would buy the former airbase at RAF Coltishall, but said no decision has yet been made about whether it will build an immigration centre on the site.

The Home Office confirmed yesterday that it would buy the former RAF Coltishall airbase.

But it said no decision had yet been taken about whether it would build an immigration centre on the site.

In a document seen late last night by the EDP, it was revealed that the decision would probably not be made this month, but Home Office officials “would not see it going beyond the spring”.

The Home Office had issued conflicting statements during the day.

At one stage, a Home Office spokeswoman confirmed to the EDP that an immigration centre would definitely be built, and several media organisations reported this as being the case.

But then a letter from the director of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), written yesterday afternoon

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to Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson, clarified the situation.

Brian Pollett, director of the IND, the arm of the Home Office that deals with immigration, said his department needed to base its decision on “best value for money”.

He added: “We cannot give a precise date for the decision because there are so many different factors on all of the options we are considering which can affect timing.

“We do not envisage that it will be before end February, but we would not see it going beyond the spring. We do not envisage retaining the site as a 'mothballed' option.”

Mr Pollett added that his department was “fully committed to open and positive communication with the community”.

But Mr Simpson complained that the continued rumour and speculation were damaging.

Certain parts of Mr Pollett's letter, such as confirmation that serving criminals would not be housed at a centre if it were built and the pledge about not mothballing the site, were good news, said the MP.

But he added: “There now needs to be total transparency. I think the Home Office has a duty to come up with answers.

“People locally have just about run out of faith in the Home Office. I'm reminded of the old Royal Navy order of 'Make more smoke'. And what we have to do with this latest information is hold the Home Office to it.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said:“Chaos and confusion appears to reign at the Home Office, and the story appears to change by the hour. It's a picture of total incompetence.”

Mr Lamb is pushing for a meeting with the Home Office this week to clarify its intentions.

In Coltishall itself, John Harding, chairman of the parish council, said that the least the Home Office could do now would be to hold a public meeting and face up to the local community.