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Cleverly says he hopes to close Wethersfield asylum centre as soon as he can

James Cleverly has said he hopes to close down the controversial mass accommodation centre in Wethersfield “as soon as practicable”, in a departure from government policy to move asylum seekers out of hotels and on to sites like the Essex military base.

Wethersfield, most recently used by Ministry of Defence police, is the Home Office’s largest mass accommodation site in the UK for people seeking asylum, with several hundred people accommodated there.

It is located in the new home secretary’s Braintree constituency and before he took up the post, Cleverly expressed opposition to use of the site, saying it “wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation”, owing to the “remote nature of the site” and “limited transport infrastructure”.

Initially, Home Office officials said they were only planning to use the site for a short period of time and so it would be exempt from the requirement to obtain planning permission.

But in a recent reversal, Home Office officials said they planned to use Wethersfield for a longer period of time and would be using a special development order mechanism to secure longer-term use of the site. Use of the site is the subject of a legal challenge by Braintree district council and a local resident.

Discontent among people placed there is growing, with two protests staged outside the gates of the military camp in the last week. Residents have complained about conditions including the quality of the food, the fact that some people are suffering from scabies and the impact on their mental health of being on such a remote site far from community support.

In an interview with Braintree and Witham Times on Tuesday, Cleverly said he was “not going to change his mind” on his previous view about Wethersfield, but added he hoped to “close down the asylum centre” as soon as he can in his new role.

He told the newspaper: “I want two things. Firstly, I want to get us into a situation where we no longer need it. Let’s get to a situation where we don’t need Wethersfield, which is why I am so determined to drive down illegal migration – to stop the boats. I will continue to really push down the illegal migration so we can close down the asylum centre as soon as practicable.

“Second, whilst Wethersfield is up and running, make sure local people are not disadvantaged, that they still feel safe and happy in their communities, that the place is run well, secure, and again, that remains an important part of my job.

“Any formal decision-making will be made by a different minister of the Home Office, which is still Robert Jenrick.”

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

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