South Cambridgeshire District Council's planning committee yesterday passed an application to extending Oakington Immigration Reception Centre's 'temporary planning permission' until June 2013 by "six votes to eight"! One can understand why the paper constantly refer to Oakington as a Reception Centre*, after all that's what the UKBA sign at the entrance says, but how can a motion be passed "six votes to eight"?**
Another strange claim made in the article was that following the protests in Oakington at the death of Eliud Nyenze in April, "[m]ore than 180 inmates took part in the riot, which led to 60 arrests." How 180 people forcing open a locked gate to protest outside the detention centre's administration office amounts to a 'riot' only the piece's author, Jack Grove, knows.***
Also, 60 detainees were moved to prisons and other detention centres as part of a process of speeding up their removal and of course punishment for complaining. They were not 'arrested', and no one has heard of any charges being brought against detainees, let alone G4S guards for apparently ignoring Mr Nyenze's calls for medical attention or for turning away from the camp's gates an ambulance that had been called by fellow detainees via mobile phone.
However, getting back to the planning meeting, amongst the objections made by councillors on the planning committee, the paper quotes:
Liberal Democrat Cllr Sebastian Kindersley: “Innocent people in 2010 should not be treated like this. It still staggers me we consented to allow any prison facility. I am disgusted by this application and could never possibly support it.”
Independent Cllr Deborah Roberts: “Taking away people’s liberty and imprisoning them is a terribly serious matter, particularly when they are not criminals. If we are expecting people to stay there, the Home Office should be improving provision for them much more.”
Independent Cllr Sally Hatton: “I wonder what makes a man or woman leave their homes, but then put up with these appalling conditions rather than return home.”
These objections were not enough to stop the committee red-stamping the application - Conservative Cllr Nick Wright: “There is no valid planning reason that this should not go ahead. As a planning committee, we are not here to give the Home Office a bloody nose.” But the council surely is there to protect the interests of the people living in its area, even if those are only temporary residents held at 'Her Madge's pleasure'. It could have added riders to the permission, calling on the UKBA to significantly improve the crumbling infrastructure of the ex-WWII RAF base. But that of course would have been too much to expect.
* Shades of nice friendly smiling faces, saying: "Welcome to our lovely country. How may we help you?"
** No doubt it was 8 to 6, and the 8 for were the committee's Tory majority.
*** Though this drivel was also the line taken by fellow reporter Raymond Byrne whilst the incident was going on.