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Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Thursday, 11 November 2010
Oakington immigration centre's future plans
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Local people fear traffic chaos if the A14 isn't widened

Oakington Immigration Reception Centre closed its doors on 12 November 2010 after 10 years of housing asylum seekers.

Questions remain, however, over the future of the site which was earmarked for the new town of Northstowe.

The land is owned jointly by the Homes and Communities Agency and private developer, Gallagher Longstanton Ltd.

Paul Kitson from the agency said they would "look at ways that the local community could benefit from the site".

The centre was established as an immigration fast-track facility at Oakington Barracks in 2000.

The former RAF station is based in the village of Longstanton, and comprises both the barracks and a disused airfield.

Immigration Reception Centre at Oakington
Many of the mature trees on the site will remain when development starts

Northstowe

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), which is the government's housing and regeneration agency, has a remit to work closely with local authorities to provide more affordable housing and to develop brownfield sites such as Oakington's barracks and airfield.

Together with Gallagher, they submitted an outline planning application for the development of Northstowe to South Cambridgeshire District Council in December 2007.

The new town was to have 9,500 houses, a school, retail facilities, community buildings, and perhaps most importantly, good transport links that included the guided busway to encourage the use of public transport and take the pressure off the local roads and the A14.

We want to get the best use out of the site between now and when Northstowe proper happens
Paul Kitson, Homes and Communities Agency

The guided busway has yet to open, and the initial plans for Northstowe have not been approved.

With an amended application expected in 2011, residents in the village of Longstanton have expressed concern about about how the area will be used, and kept secure, now that the Home Office has closed the immigration facility.

Mick Yarrow is the chairman of Longstanton Parish Council and owns the only shop in the village - a Post Office and general store.

He said: "My business will suffer because we used to deliver papers to the centre and many of the employees used my shop. But I'm also concerned that some of the local people will now be unemployed."

Squatters

Mr Yarrow also said he was worried about security at the site, and whether travellers or squatters might move into the unused buildings.

The HCA's area manager, Paul Kitson, was quick to allay fears.

He said: "On 12 November when the entire site comes under our control, there are three issues that we want to address.

Artist's impression of planned Northstowe
An artist's impression of part of the proposed town of Northstowe

"First, that we pay heed to our neighbours and make sure that the site is safe and secure. We'll be maintaining the same level of security as was on site when it was run by the Home Office, in addition to the security we already have on the airfield.

"Secondly, we'll be looking to reduce our operating costs and there's the health and safety consideration too, as many of these buildings are old and substantial, and we'll probably be looking at removing some of them to help reduce costs."

Lastly, he said that both the HCA and Gallagher were committed to making sure that the local community could make use of the facilities that exist on the site.

"That might involve talking with local parish councils, it might involve using the playing field at the front of the site or part-use of some of the buildings if they're in the right condition.

"We want to get the best use out of the site between now and when Northstowe proper happens," he said.

'Assets'

Both the HCA and Gallagher are adamant that Northstowe will be approved and built, and that development of the first phase can begin as soon as possible.

Paul Kitson was keen to point out that many of the buildings already there would be retained.

He said: "One of the key features of the masterplan was to keep the street layout of the barracks."

He added that buildings including the officers' mess, administration block and the guard house would "really contribute to the sense of place that new developments sometimes lack" and should be retained as a reference to the area's heritage.

By keeping these buildings, when or if, Northstowe is developed, there will already be some large community spaces ready for use, unlike Cambourne, for example, where houses were built first and community facilities followed much later.

Mr Kitson said that he was also mindful of the environmental impact of developing the site at Longstanton.

Officers' Mess at Oakington Barracks
The officers' mess is one of the buildings that developers want to keep

"Brownfield sites like this, when left undeveloped, become very rich in biodiversity and we have a number of owl and bat species, badgers, reptiles and lizards that are a real asset to this area.

"We'll be paying close attention to the translocation, movement and mitigation measures for those species over the next few months," he said.

"Tree retention has always been a big issue throughout the planning for Northstowe. The lovely mature trees down the avenue on the barrack site are also a real asset as it's very difficult to buy that sort of scene-setting.

"Parts of the airfield are also leased to local farmers, and agricultural tenancy is something we'd like to increase," he said. "The more people you've got there, the more secure an area is."

While he admitted that the rejection of proposals to expand the A14 had been disappointing for Northstowe, Mr Kitson said: "We're working with the Highways Agency and the Department of Transport to understand what the constraints are on any development in relation to the A14."




SEE ALSO
Sam: An asylum seeker's detention
12 Nov 10 |  People & Places
Immigration centre 'is unsafe'
12 Dec 08 |  UK
Going undercover for the story
18 Apr 05 |  Notes
Oakington escapees on the run
01 Oct 08 |  Cambridgeshire

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