What would happen to two “Immigrant Removal Centres” close to Heathrow, if its 3rd runway plans go ahead?
Date added: October 31, 2018
There has not been any discussion, in the plans to build a 3rd Heathrow runway, of the detention centre, that would be demolished – and where it would be moved to. To the north of the current airport boundary are two “Immigration Removal Centres” (IRC) which, together, form the UK’s biggest immigration detention complex, with space for 1,065 prisoners. They are run by the private contractor Mitie in a £240 million deal set to run until 2022. The DfT’s NPS explains that “continuous service provision of the IRCs at Heathrow is necessary”, and so “replacement facilities in substitution for the affected IRCs should be provided prior to any works”. ie. they would build new replacement centres, which would have to be ready before the old ones are shut. Four possible sites (Jan 2018 document) are suggested, two further north and two further south, close to the airport, all on green belt (so special planning permission is required.) There will be local opposition. Spelthorne (which backs the runway plan) has already come out “categorically” against rehousing the prisons, and refuse to have the centre on their land. The Heathrow scheme cannot proceed (if at all) before the judgement on the legal challenges, some time next year (early summer?) at the earliest. The Home Office is unlikely to do much on new detention centre plans until that is certain.
WHAT DOES THE HEATHROW RUNWAY PLAN MEAN FOR FUTURE OF DETENTION CENTRES?
In June, the UK government approved the plan to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Amidst all the controversy, one detail has not been discussed much beyond local Surrey news (copied below); the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres will have to be demolished to build the new runway.**
The Heathrow expansion scheme would push the airport out to the North, towards the village of Harmondsworth. That includes the land where the two “Immigration Removal Centres” currently sit. Together, they form the UK’s biggest immigration detention complex, with space for 1,065 prisoners. They are run by the private contractor Mitie in a £240 million deal set to run until 2022. (See our Detention Centres Briefing for further information.)
The Department of Transport (DFT) policy statement on the plans includes a section on the detention centres. It explains that “continuous service provision of the IRCs at Heathrow is necessary”, and so “replacement facilities in substitution for the affected IRCs should be provided prior to any works”.
In short: they would build new replacement centres, which would have to be ready before the old ones are shut.
The final consultation document on the plan, published in January 2018, says that the replacement prison(s) will be built on one site. It identifies a shortlist of four possible sites, two further north and two further south, but all still close by the airport. (See here, page 95for full details.) Notably, all the four sites are on greenbelt land, which will mean special planning permission is required.
The DFT document adds that local councils should be involved in planning the new replacement prisons from an early stage:
“The applicant should discuss the provision to be made in substitution for the existing IRCs with the Home Office and any local authority whose area is likely to be affected by a replacement facility.”
Already the local authority for one of the proposed sites, Spelthorne Borough Council, has come out “categorically” against rehousing the prisons. Its chief executive has said: “We are categorically not discussing the prospect at all because we have made it categoric that we will not abide having such a centre on our patch.”
The third runway scheme is intended to be in place by 2026. Which would mean work on new detention facilities would have to start quickly to be in place before demolition. However, the third runway scheme isn’t settled yet. Legal challenges are now underway, with a High Court judicial review hearing expected to begin in March 2019. There is still a chance the plan could be reversed, and it seems unlikely the Home Office will move on new detention plans until it’s certain.
One factor in all this could be Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who is the local MP. McDonnell is a strong opponent of the runway plan: he supports the legal challenge, and has even called for “direct action” if that doesn’t work. As far as we are aware, McDonnell has not yet made any comment on the future of the detention centres. (But in the past, he has been known to champion the cases of people locked up in the centres.)
In May 2018, McDonnell’s colleague Diane Abbot (shadow home secretary) announced that Labour would close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House, the two detention centres which have been worst hit by recent scandals. But she said nothing about the Heathrow centres.
If the runway does go ahead, it will be disastrous for the people of Harmondsworth village, and indeed for all of us on our overheating planet. But could it at least cause some problems for the detention system?
Looking back over the history of struggles against detention centres in the UK, here is one fact that stands out. Aside from the 2002 Yarl’s Wood revolt which permanently destroyed half of that centre from the inside, no campaign has managed to shut down an existing detention centre. But campaigns have successfully stopped new ones from opening, for example using a mixture of grassroots local resistance alongside legal, planning, and political challenges. (See our “brief history of resistance to immigration detention ” for more on these points.)
On the other hand, even if current legal challenges fail, the huge opposition to the expansion scheme is not likely to just disappear. Could environmental and migration campaigners come together around the future of Harmondsworth, and make this a fight not just against the runway but also against the vicious prisons that sit in its path?
** Detention Forum have raised the issue on twitter, we haven’t seen further discussion yet amongst migration campaigners.
Heathrow would not like to see a new immigration detention centre built in Spelthorne, according to an airport official.
The claim was made by Rob Gray, director of community and stakeholder relations at Heathrow , at a meeting arranged by Jim McIrloy, chairman of Stanwell Moor Residents’ Association, in Stanwell Moor Village Hall on Monday July 30.
Draft proposals for expansion released in January showed Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre would be relocated in an expanded airport, and a potential site just north of Stanwell Moor had been identified.
During the meeting Mr Gray said the airport’s preferred option for expansion does not include building an immigration detention centre in the borough although the final decision on where it is placed would be made by the Home Office.
Mr Gray was responding to a member of the public who had asked officials in attendance if discussions had been had about the prospect of a detention centre being placed in the borough.
In response, Daniel Mouawad, chief executive of Spelthorne Borough Council (SBC), said the council is refusing even to discuss the prospect with the airport.
“We are categorically not discussing the prospect at all because we have made it categoric that we will not abide having such a centre on our patch,” he said.
In a previously released ‘list of demands’ , SBC insisted it would not accept the relocation of the detention centre to land inside the borough.
Following on from Mr Mouawad’s answer, Mr Gray said although the airport’s preferred option had not been published, it would not include plans for the centre to be in Spelthorne.
“In our consultation which was as you know full of options and suggestions earlier this year, there were four potential sites for the immigration removal centre which is currently in Harmondsworth,” he said.
“I can tell you that the site in this borough is not our preferred option. We are still in dialogue with the Home Office. It is a home office decision ultimately but it is not our preferred option to put that in this borough.”
The Home Office would only confirm that it was in discussions with the airport about where the new centre will be.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “Four sites in the vicinity are under consideration and Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) have included these options in their recent consultation. The Government continue to work with HAL on this.”
Mr Gray would not confirm what the preferred option for the site, which is just to the north of Stanwell Moor Village Hall, would be.
When asked about other potential development on that site, Mr Gray said: “I can’t answer that at the moment because simply I don’t know. We’re still developing our plans.
Aside from a possible immigration removal centre, in proposals outlined in January, offices or other commercial development such as warehouses were a possibility.
At the same meeting, an email sent from John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, to Mr McIlroy was read out to the crowd.
In the email Mr Holland-Kaye confirmed the airport is “seriously considering” including Stanwell Moor in it’s Wider Property Offer Zone (WPOZ).
This comes after a long-running campaign by Mr McIlroy and residents to be included in the scheme, which would allow residents to sell their homes to Heathrow for 125% their unaffected market value.