Skip to main content

Home Office: The cancellation of Bicester Accommodation Centre

The Home Office spent some £28 million on plans to create a purpose-built asylum centre in Bicester, Oxfordshire, following its announcement in 2001 of a major overhaul of the asylum system to speed up the processing of applications from asylum-seekers. In 2005, in the light of improvements to the handling of asylum applications, reduced numbers of asylum applications and rising costs of the project, the Bicester project was cancelled by the Department because it was no longer economically viable.

In October 2001, the government announced that it would build ten asylum accommodation centres, which would accommodate 3,000 people. The Home Office planned for these sites to house a proportion of first-time asylum seekers from the time of their arrival in the UK through to the point where the outcome of their application was decided.

The first centre was to be built in Bicester but, in the face significant local opposition, the success of other initiatives to speed up the processing of asylum applications and a fall in the number of people claiming asylum in the UK, the programme was cancelled in June 2005, four years after its inception.

This strength of public opinion led to opposition, which elongated the planning process, caused the start of work on site to slip by 14 months, delayed the centre’s inception and so raised costs.

In planning for the centre, the Home Office was working in a dynamic external policy environment, whereby the number of people applying for asylum could fall and, hence, the demand for such facilities would therefore reduce. The number of applicants seeking asylum in the UK halved between October 2002 and September 2003.

Since that time, the site in Bicester has remained under the ownership of the Home Office and no decision has yet been taken on the future use of the site.

The NAO report makes a number of recommendations for departments planning similar projects.

"There were two main risks to successful delivery of the Bicester asylum centre: one related to project management, such as delays, higher costs and falling benefits; and the second a change in the demand for such a facility, due to other initiatives. Unfortunately, both of these risks were realised. "Bicester highlights the need for Departments to identify, for schemes that require planning permission, the impact of planning delays on cost and delivery using a range of scenarios. The Home Office must now move forward and consider how to get best value from the empty site in Bicester."

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  2. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 45/07