PLANS for an asylum centre to house up to 1,500 male refugees at the former RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse will NOT now go ahead, The Press has learned.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said today that he had 'withdrawn' the offer for the disused base to be used to house refugees waiting for their asylum claims to be processed.

He told reporters he had 'obligations to do something else' with the site.

He said: “I have withdrawn the offer to the Home Office for that site.

“It’s been with them for a number of months. I have obligations to do something else with that site, and you know there are other sites we made available to the Home Office if they wish to take it up.”

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, who has campaigned long and hard against use of the former air base as an asylum centre, said he had spoken to Mr Wallace himself today, and the defence secretary had confirmed that the offer of the site to the Home Office had been withdrawn.

Asked about what other plans Mr Wallace might have for the site, Mr Hollinrake said: “It will have some commercial potential – but there could be lots of uses."

He added that the news the asylum centre would not be going ahead would come as a huge relief to local people.

“It is very, very good news for residents,” he said. “There has been so much anxiety in the village.”

He praised the collective effort to campaign against the proposals, which had involved the parish and district council, local action groups, and the people of the village themselves. “This is the rightful outcome,” he said.

The first 60 of what could eventually be 1,500 young men were originally expected to arrive at the hastily-converted former RAF base by the end of May - but that was delayed.

The Home Office said those housed at Linton-on-Ouse would be ‘destitute single adult male asylum seekers’ whose asylum applications were under review - potentially up to six months each.

But locals said the tiny village of Linton-on-Ouse ws the wrong place for such a centre - and that the village would be overwhelmed. They also pointed out there would be little in the way of facilities for the refugees housed there.

There was huge relief in the village today.

A spokesperson for the parish council said: “Since April, when the news was announced, the parish council, along with the 700 or so residents of Linton, have been working hard to outline the reasons that Linton-on-Ouse was not an appropriate place to house 1,500 young men. 

“The news will be a relief to residents that have been in a state of limbo since April.  We hope that we will be contacted by the Home Office directly to confirm the news, but in the meantime we are cautiously optimistic that we can return to life as normal in our small village!”

Dr Olga Matthias of the Linton-on-Ouse action group added: “This is marvellous news. Everybody in the village will be over the moon.”

But she added that it would be a ‘hollow victory’ if the Home Office just ended up sending the asylum seekers to another air base somewhere else.

The problem was not the number of asylum seekers coming into the UK – it was the Home Office's failure to process them quickly, she said.

York Central’s Labour MP Rachel Maskell agreed.

“We know that this was the wrong place to place refugees, because it is isolated and away from amenities” she said.

“I’m glad that the decision has been taken to not open the site. Now we need to ensure that refigees are treated with respect and given the support that they need.”

She added any future use of the former airbase should be properly consulted on with local people.

Pau Wordsworth of York City of Sanctuary also welcomed news that the asylum centre would not now go ahead.

Dumping 1,500 young men there for months or years while their cases were decided would have amounted to ‘criminalising’ them he said. 

Cllr Darryl Smalley, the executive member for culture, leisure and communities at City of York Council, added: “It’s welcome news that the rushed and ill-thought-out Guantanamo-on-Ouse plan has been abandoned.

"This is, however, just a small part of the dysfunctional Rwanda plan, which both Conservative Party Leadership candidates are still supporting. Not only is it incredibly expensive and inhumane, recent record numbers of people crossing the channel would suggest it’s just not working. 

“It has been shown time and time again that it is most effective for those seeking asylum to be housed within communities.”