Controversial Northamptonshire airbase plans approved after government rejects call to intervene over Harry Dunn scandal

RAF Croughton is used as a listening post by the United States Air ForceRAF Croughton is used as a listening post by the United States Air Force
RAF Croughton is used as a listening post by the United States Air Force
Council: 'We wish Harry’s family and friends well in their continuing campaign for justice'

Controversial plans relating to a Northamptonshire airbase has been approved after the government rejected a plea to intervene over the Harry Dunn scandal.

South Northamptonshire Council has given the United States Air Force (USAF) the go-ahead to make various changes at RAF Croughton despite Anne Sacoolas still not facing justice.

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Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick decided not to 'call-in' the scheme following South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom's request in July.

Harry DunnHarry Dunn
Harry Dunn

Council deputy leader and cabinet member for planning, Phil Bignell, said: “Harry’s death was an absolute tragedy, and it was right and proper that Andrea Leadsom, as the local MP, supported his family in seeking to use this planning matter as a bargaining chip in negotiations to try to ensure justice for Harry.

"Now that this particular attempt has not succeeded, we wish Harry’s family and friends well in their continuing campaign for justice, and have simply handled the planning application in the usual way as the law requires.”

A planning application was submitted by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) earlier this year on behalf of the USAF for the renewal of technical equipment at RAF Croughton, including the construction of two large fixed antennas and two new radomes.

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The base near Croughton is used as a listening post by the Americans, which is where Sacoolas' husband Jonathan was based at the time of Harry's death.

South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom. Photo: Getty ImagesSouth Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom. Photo: Getty Images
South Northamptonshire MP Andrea Leadsom. Photo: Getty Images

Council officers were minded to approve the 'routine' proposal under delegated powers but the decision was put on hold while the secretary of state considered Mrs Leadsom's request to 'call it in'.

The MP believes the US' plans for the base should not be considered with until Sacoolas returns to the UK to face her charge of causing Harry's death by dangerous driving.

The American woman went back to the States after claiming diplomatic immunity over the fatal crash with the 19-year-old's motorcycle and her car, which was on the right-hand side of the road near Croughton on August 27, 2019.

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Mr Jenrick has now told the council he will not be 'calling in' the application so it has been approved as it can be determined on planning grounds.

Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert JenrickSecretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick

A council spokesperson said: "We are strictly limited to the grounds we can take into account, and despite our huge sympathy and respect for the family’s campaign, the circumstances of Harry’s tragic death are not matters that we are allowed to take into account.

"Indeed, if we were to do so and reject the otherwise routine planning application on those grounds, there is the likelihood that the applicant would simply appeal and most likely easily win their appeal.

"Any such lost appeal would likely only cause a minor and inconsequential delay, but have the negative effect of costing South Northants Council – and ultimately, therefore, our local taxpayers – a substantial sum in legal fees but without actually making any real difference."

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Radd Seiger, the spokesman for Harry's family, said tensions between the base and the community have risen to 'breaking point' since the scandal unfolded last year.

However this application is a 'minor' issue for them but insists relations cannot be normal until Sacoolas attends a British court, he added.

"It simply cannot be business as usual for the American Government until Anne Sacoolas is back," he said.

"We have all made that clear to them and Andrea Leadsom has taken our case up in Parliament seeking to ensure that no substantive planning permission is granted to the Americans while they behave this way.

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"We are confident that that will be the case. No self-respecting British government can allow the American government to get away with this given their primary duty is to their citizens."

Harry's family are more concerned about the USAF's plans to widen and move the entrance to RAF Croughton as they believe it is a precursor to the base's expansion.

The MoD insists no expansion is in the works and the scheme, which is yet to be formally applied for as an environmental survey must be done in advance, is just to allow for more cars to be searched.

Nevertheless, Mr Seiger added: "What we will not have is planning permission being granted in their other application, which we all know is designed to prepare a massive expansion of operations and personnel.

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"That simply will not be tolerated and we will hold the Government to account to ensure that that is not passed until such time as Anne Sacoolas is back."

Mrs Leadsom has been contacted for comment. The MoD declined to comment.

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