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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Asylum protesters lose court bid
Protester outside proposed site for asylum centre
The centre is to be built on former Ministry of Defence land
Protesters fighting to stop a proposed asylum centre in rural Oxfordshire have lost their legal challenge.

A High Court judge ruled on Tuesday that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was right to grant planning permission for the scheme.

But residents have vowed to maintain their battle against the plan, despite the decision by Mr Justice Collins.

Former Ministry of Defence (MoD) land near Bicester will now be used for a centre to house 750 migrants.

It is planned that up to 400 single men, 50 single women and 300 family members will stay at the centre while they wait to find out if their applications for asylum have been successful.

I appreciate this will be of considerable disappointment to many
Mr Justice Collins

People living in the complex, between the villages of Arncott and Piddington, would be free to come and go as they please.

Lawyers for Conservative-led Cherwell Council had argued that Mr Prescott had ignored the results of a public inquiry when he gave permission for the plan.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins said: "I appreciate this will be of considerable disappointment to the many who oppose the establishment of this centre.

"But I can only act if an error of law is established and, for the reasons I have given, there is in my judgment no error which could produce relief.

"The defendant (Mr Prescott) was entitled to exercise his own judgment on the weight to be attached to the material matters and thus to differ from the inspector. The claim must therefore be dismissed."

But the judge criticised Beverley Hughes, who resigned as immigration minister, for making statements which were "not entirely accurate" about the impact of the proposed centre on local services.

Fitting asylum seekers into the Oxfordshire countryside is a crazy policy
Tony Baldry MP

A Conservative MP who campaigned against the centre condemned the ruling as "crazy", while the leader of the council said he was considering an appeal.

Banbury MP Tony Baldry said: "No organisation involved in the day-to-day welfare of asylum seekers thought this was the right policy and the court's decision raises serious questions over the democracy of planning policy.

"If ministers can put up two fingers to a planning inspector after a planning inquiry, what's the point of having them?

"The idea of fitting asylum seekers into the Oxfordshire countryside is a crazy policy.

"I suspect if it ever happens, it will be a disaster because they will simply drift away into the countryside."

'Further appeal'

George Reynolds, leader of Cherwell District Council, said: "We are naturally very disappointed at this outcome.

"We have always felt that the process and decision-making were flawed.

"We will now be studying the written judgment very carefully to assess whether there are grounds for further appeal."

Des Browne, the new immigration minister, welcomed the ruling and invited people living nearby to co-operate with the new centre's development.

He said: "The centre will be largely self-sufficient, with health and education facilities on site, and should not be seen as being detrimental to the local community.

"I hope that the local community will work with us as we develop our plans in Bicester and drive forward with our reforms to create an asylum system that all people can have trust and confidence in."

A spokesman for Mr Prescott said: "We are pleased at the outcome but have no further comment to make on the ruling."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jane Hughes
"A disappointing day for them but they say they are not going to stop the fight"



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Bicester asylum centre
06 Apr 04  |  Oxfordshire
Judgement delayed on asylum fight
17 Mar 04  |  Oxfordshire
Asylum centre challenged in court
16 Mar 04  |  Oxfordshire
Date set for asylum centre review
11 Feb 04  |  Oxfordshire
No u-turn on asylum centre
03 Feb 04  |  Oxfordshire


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