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.