The new detention centre

If the expansion of Heathrow airport goes ahead, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration detention centres will be demolished, and replaced with a single detention centre of equivalent size, or bigger.

The Home Office and Heathrow Airport Ltd have worked together to refine the requirements for a replacement detention centre site. A single site, as close as possible to the boundary of the expanded airport, would replace the two existing detention centres, and must provide the same capacity and occupy at least the same land area (preferably 25% more) as Harmondsworth and Colnbrook combined.

The Airports National Policy Statement, the government’s guidance for the expansion planning process, requires the developers to provide continuous access to detention facilities and implies that this should be ensured by building a replacement which can start operation before access to the existing detention centres is significantly affected by expansion works.

Heathrow Airport Ltd originally shortlisted four sites. It now shortlists two, one at Mayfield Farm to the south of the existing airport, and one to then southeast in Bedfont, both in the London Borough of Hounslow.

Both sites are on Green Belt land. Heathrow Airport Ltd and the Home Office intend to apply for planning permission for the new detention centre as part of the Development Consent Order application for the entire Heathrow expansion plan, which would allow them to bypass the local planning process.

Hounslow Council Planning Department is in discussion with Heathrow Airport Ltd about building the new mega 1060-place detention centre on Council owned land in Bedfont bounded by Hatton, Faggs and Staines Roads north of the Duke of Northumberland’s River. This is because the Council wants the Mayfield Farm site to be used for other purposes.

Hounslow Council recently conducted a consultation exercise over a Local Plan Review to take the Bedfont site out of the Green Belt in order for the land to be used for airport-related businesses such as warehousing and logistics. Lifting the Green Belt protection enables this land to be used as the site for a detention centre, although this was not made clear in the publicly available information on the Local Plan, on which people were invited to comment in the public consultation.

Map of the Bedfont site

Map showing the proposed detention centre site in Bedford, on open space off Faggs Road
Map showing the proposed site for a new-build 1,060-place replacement immigration detention centre, on open space off Faggs Road in Bedfont in the London Borough of Hounslow. The site is in the white space in the centre of this map.

Hounslow council’s response

The following is a Hounslow Council statement relating to the proposed detention centre:

The Council consulted on its West of Borough Local Plan Review (Regulation 19) from 30 July until midnight on 24 September 2019. The Review sets out the Council’s aspirations for place shaping in the West of Hounslow. The Local Plan Review includes Policies P3 “Heathrow Gateway” and P4 “Airport Business Park”.

The Heathrow Gateway Site – Policy P3

This site is also known as Mayfield Farm. The Council considers that exceptional circumstances exist to justify a proposal for the site to be safeguarded for green belt release only to deliver strategic transport infrastructure which includes a new Southern Rail Access Station with mixed use development (delivering 2,200 new homes and 10,300 new jobs). In the event that the Southern Rail Access Station is not built the site will remain designated Green Belt within the Council’s Local Plan.

Airport Business Park – Policy P4

This site is also known as land off Faggs Road. The Council considers that exceptional circumstances exist to justify a proposal for this site to be released from its existing green belt designation to deliver airport related warehousing and logistics, handling air cargo and freight (providing 145,000 sqm of floor space for industrial uses and 2,500 jobs).

Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is seeking to re-provide the existing Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) displaced by the third runway proposals. HAL has been consulting on possible sites for a new Immigration Removal Centre. HAL’s first (informal) consultation in 2018, suggested a potential site for a new IRC in the area known as Mayfield Farm. The Council’s aspirations for a new Southern Rail Access Station could potentially be jeopardised, or at least severely hampered, by the presence of such a facility in this location. The Council fed this back in a written response to the airport operator during the first informal consultation.

Whilst the Council does not support the relocation of the IRC into Hounslow borough, it recognises that the airport is seeking compulsory purchase powers through the Development Consent Order (DCO) process and this may limit the Council’s ability to prevent such a relocation. An alternative site for the IRC on part of Airport Business Park was consulted on in HAL’s second (formal) consultation 18th June to 13th September 2019. The Council maintains an objection in principle to the relocation of the facility within the borough.

The Council appreciates that this is a sensitive and very emotive issue and that there are competing interests between residents, business and local authorities within the locality of Heathrow. Whilst the Council remains committed to representing the views of all those residents and business within its boundaries, it has openly and categorically objected to the re-provision of the Immigration Removal Centre within the London Borough of Hounslow.

This is and remains the Council’s officially adopted policy and the Council will continue to maintain its objection to the IRC being sited in Hounslow.