A Lib Dem view on this aspect of the Heathrow expansion and immigration detention centres.

A little publicised part of the consultation on the Heathrow expansion is that Colnbrook and Harmondsworth IDCs which are close to the airport will be closed – which is good – and replaced with one large IDC – which is not good. We understand that the overall number of detention places will remain the same but the space will increase by 25%.

The UK detains more people than any other European country. Lib Dem policy is that this cruel and unnecessary practice has to end. We want to see a massive reduction in the numbers of IDCs and the number of individuals detained; no one should be detained for more than 28 days and vulnerable people should never be detained. Instead of detaining people there should be investment in community alternatives to detention.

A range of groups are now getting together to campaign against the replacement of the IDCs. There is inevitably tension between the different campaign objectives. Many people believe that there should be no detention at all, and campaigning for a smaller, better-managed IDC only undermines that argument. There is also, of course, the wider campaign that opposes the 3rd runway at Heathrow – which many of us campaigned against as part of the Richmond By-election. If, by some miracle, the expansion was halted, then presumably the two IDCs would stay as they are – and as long as those places are there they will be filled – often by people who should not be detained at all.

With some reluctance LD4SOS recognise that it may always be necessary to detain some individuals who have not been given permission to stay in the UK and are going to be removed. It would be less traumatic if they were detained near to the airport they were flying out of. There is, therefore, an argument for a small well managed short-term detention facility as part of the Heathrow expansion. The facility should be designed in such a way that it can accommodate women and families separately to single males, and provide comfortable and dignified surroundings. The short term holding facilities in Heathrow itself (subject of much criticism from the Independent Monitoring Board) should also be replaced appropriately.

There will be further consultation over the proposals for Heathrow including sites for the new replacement IDCs over the next six months. Those of us living in London and the areas surrounding Heathrow will have already received a leaflet inviting us to meetings to discuss the proposed plans. There will be a wider national consultation later on this year. We understand, however, that the Home Office has asked that the discussion about the IDCs takes place in closed meetings. This is currently being checked and, if so, whether it can be challenged.

Inevitably most of the attention will be focused on trying to stop the third runway and understanding the impact it will have on the different sites proposed. But we mustn’t forget that the future shape of two of the major IDCs will also be decided, and we must seize the opportunity to campaign for a smaller and much improved facility. LD4SOS are trying to brief the key MPs/Peers/Councillors so that they are also aware of this issue. If you live in London or one of the surrounding areas do try and get along to the consultation meetings and raise the issue of IDCs (be really helpful to tell us what you are told) and also raise it with your MP or councillor.