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4,000 homes to be built at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 08:34 19 January 2016 | UPDATED: 08:57 19 January 2016

RAf Mildenhall will be developed into a new housing estate

RAf Mildenhall will be developed into a new housing estate

The future of a Suffolk RAF base which is earmarked for closure has finally been settled after the Ministry of Defence announced it will sell the site, paving the way for 4,000 homes to be built.

MC-130P Combat Shadow, taxis (or takes off) at RAF Mildenhall MC-130P Combat Shadow, taxis (or takes off) at RAF Mildenhall

It comes as the former Blundeston Prison is also site earmarked for homes.

Debate has raged over what will happen to RAF Mildenhall since last January, when the US Air Force (USAF) confirmed it would be leaving the site by 2022.

But the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday that the site was one of 12 it will be releasing in order to raise £500million to pump back into the defence budget.

RAF Barnham, near Thetford, is also included in the list. The camp currently serves as a satellite base for RAF Honington.

Only part of the 1,100-acre Mildenhall site will be used for housing, according to the MOD, with space freed up for 4,000 homes.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said planning permission had already been approved for the homes.

News of the sale followed a year of campaigning by Forest Heath District Council for a prompt decision on the Mildenhall site.

James Waters, the council’s leader, said he was pleased it had been reached, but called for a suitable plan going forward.

“The future use of the site has to be one that meets local needs – and that is not about simply selling off land for housing,” he said.

“We need to be replacing jobs with jobs and working with our communities to ensure a prosperous future. Now the hard work really begins.

“Whatever the future use for the air base site may be, it will dramatically change the future not just of the Mildenhall area, but of West Suffolk and the wider sub region.”

It was recently revealed that RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath contribute £700million a year to the local economy.

Mr Waters said losing the USAF was a blow, but presented opportunities.

“While the potential impact of the base closure is clear to see, we are well positioned to ensure the jobs lost from the closure of RAF Mildenhall are replaced with new jobs, and the houses left by Mildenhall base personnel are quickly filled.

“The £120m dualling of the A11, linking Norwich to Cambridge and London, offers huge potential for economic growth in this area.

“Cambridge is a world leader in science and innovation and is bursting at the seams and we are only 12 miles down the road,” he said.

Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, said he was pleased with the decision.

“Given the Americans had decided to leave, this early decision by the Government today on the future of RAF Mildenhall is very good news and I am pleased that there is a clear plan of action for the base.

“Of course, those affected and working on the base need to be supported through these changes and I will ensure this happens.

“I will also continue to work very closely through the council and local constituents to make sure we make the best of this potential and secure Mildenhall’s future”.

Defence minister Mark Lancaster said the sale was part of a strategy to reduce the MoD’s estate by 30%.

“By streamlining the defence estate, we will ensure that it better meets the needs of the Armed Forces well into the future.

“Defence has the strongest incentive to become more efficient, with every pound we make by disposing of excess land reinvested into a defence budget to keep Britain safe,” he said.

A working group has already been set up to engage the key stakeholders involved in the base as the Americans prepare to withdraw.

Learning lessons from RAF Barnham

The development of a historic RAF base into housing would have “huge” repercussions for a village, a parish council chairman has said.

Ed Wyer, Barnham Parish Council chairman, said the site was a key part of 
the village, with a storied history.

According to the MoD, St Edmundsbury Borough Council has not yet identified the site for potential housing.

But with 4,000 homes set to be built at RAF Mildenhall, Mr Wyer warned that if Barnham went the same way, it could make a big impression on the community.

“It’s half the size of Barnham and if it became housing it would make a huge impact. Whether it would be to the detriment is hard to know.

“I’m quite surprised they haven’t sold it before now as Honington is a large site and hosts most of their activities,” he said.

It currently serves as a satellite base for RAF Honington and is used by the Air Training Corps and cadets.

The site was built in 1939 and was used as a chemical weapons store.

During the Cold War, part of the site – which is now the Gorse industrial estate – was used as a store for nuclear weapons.

An MoD training area lies next to the base.

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David Vincent

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EADT writer David Vincent has more than 40 years experience in Suffolk. He has explored the highways and byeways of East Anglia, meeting homeowners, developers and estate agents from Bury St Edmunds to Aldeburgh and Colchester to Diss.