Poll: Villagers refuse to believe American air force will quit Lakenheath - but vow to stand united if they do
13:47 21 March 2014
A village has vowed to survive should it lose the American airbase that has been at its heart for more than 70 years – but believes the unfolding crisis in Crimea could have drastic repercussions for west Suffolk.
Community leaders in Lakenheath yesterday spoke of the importance of RAF Lakenheath to the village after this newspaper exclusively revealed a report commissioned by the US government had recommended it for closure.
However, the village’s post office and shop said the base’s exit would not hit their businesses too hard, and the village had been there centuries before RAF Lakenheath arrived during the Second World War.
Villagers were also unanimous that they would ‘believe it when they saw it’, while many felt Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine may change the US Air Force’s thinking when it comes to Lakenheath.
“My gut feeling is that although the governments are trying to save money, looking at what’s happening in Crimea, to close a significantly large establishment like this which is close to Europe - that is unlikely to happen anytime soon,” said Ian Smith, vice chairman of Lakenheath Parish Council.
“Every time we have a new application for another house, it always goes to rental. If the base would close, there’s no rental demand. That causes a problem because who would buy them?
“I don’t think now is the time they’d do it, from a military or operating point of view.”
American Vince Williams, who has lived in Lakenheath since 1982, is the assembly leader at the Lakenheath Abundant Life church.
He said: “The base is part of life out here. Housing in this area is dominated by military members. It provides jobs for local people, doing things like cleaning and repairs, but there’s also their purchasing power - they don’t only shop on the base.
“I don’t think it will go away - not yet. There’s a time for that to happen, but they start talking about stuff five or ten years away. I also think what’s going on in Russia is important and the potential for it to escalate back to the Cold War.
“It has been rumoured (to close) in the past, but I think in this present climate it’s more of a possibility.”
The report by global thinktank RAND Corporation put forward three options for restructuring the US military’s presence overseas, two of which would lead to Lakenheath’s closure.
A key part of RAND’s strategy was Lakenheath’s distance from areas such as the Persian Gulf.
Phil Bradley, assistant postmaster at Lakenheath Post Office, said: “It is an important thing to the local economy, but I don’t think it would affect the post office here to that extent, because they’ve got their own local post office on base.
“I don’t think it will actually affect the village here in a major way. Obviously the car hire companies, they’re going to suffer greatly, but most of our customers come from the village.
“If the base closes then so be it - the village was here centuries before the Americans were.”
Brendan Fulham has been spearheading the People’s Project in Lakenheath, which hopes to bring the village a state-of-the-art community hub.
He said the air base to Lakenheath was like the Ford factory to Dagenham, adding: “They are part of the fabric of our village. Many of them integrate - they send their children to our schools, they shop in our shops.
“I believe this cutback in the military is no different than has been going on in the United States military for years. I don’t see the base being in a position to close anytime soon.”
RAND’s report is just one part of the ongoing European Infrastructure Consolidation (EIC) review underway by the US Department of Defense, the results of which are due to be published later this year.