CONCERNED community leaders last night welcomed news that cuts at one of East Anglia's biggest RAF bases will be less drastic than first feared.Although two squadrons based at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, will be axed over the next three years - with the loss of around 120 posts - a squadron currently stationed in Cornwall will be transferred to Suffolk.
By James Mortlock
CONCERNED community leaders last night welcomed news that cuts at one of East Anglia's biggest RAF bases will be less drastic than first feared.
Although two squadrons based at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, will be axed over the next three years - with the loss of around 120 posts - a squadron currently stationed in Cornwall will be transferred to Suffolk.
And the base - which currently boasts around 1,300 military personnel as well as scores of support staff and civilian employees - will retain its crucial Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Regiment responsible for combating the menace of chemical and biological warfare.
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The news came as Defence Secretary John Reid announced more than 2,500 military and civilian posts were to be scrapped in the latest phase of the Armed Forces restructuring.
The moves include the disbandment of four RAF Regiment ground-based air defence squadrons with the loss of 340 posts. The units to be axed include 15 and 16 Squadrons based at RAF Honington.
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Lt Col Stuart Green, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in East Anglia, said last night that Mr Reid's written statement to the House of Commons was confirming decisions taken last year.
He said: “What has emerged today is that, yes two squadrons will go but a squadron of the RAF Regiment currently based in Cornwall will now move into Honington.
“So the people there who were expecting to lose two squadrons will now effectively lose just one.”
And Lt Col Green stressed that the RAF Regiment cuts were posts not personnel: “People won't go - they will be moved to other posts.”
MP Richard Spring, whose West Suffolk constituency covers the military base, said he was pleased the cuts at Honington were not as severe as first thought: “We have to accept that there will be different logistic arrangements for the RAF but Honington is a very important part of British defence strategy as well as being an important part of the Suffolk community.
“And the important thing is that it continues its substantial role as a military base and in the local community.”
The Rev Sally Fogden, vicar at Honington and the surrounding villages, said it was good news Honington was losing fewer personnel than expected. “We are in Honington very supportive of RAF Honington and have very close ties with the base,” she said.
“It is very important in that it provides a fair degree of employment for local people and I expect this to be a relief to those who work there.”
The Defence Secretary said the changes would allow the Army's Royal Regiment of Artillery to take over responsibility for ground-based air defences across the forces. The RAF Regiment will focus on its role of protecting other elements of the Armed Forces, particularly while they are on deployment.
Mr Reid said that the RAF job losses would form part of the 7,500 redundancies announced in July last year.
While he hoped to achieve the majority of civilian job losses through a combination of natural wastage and voluntary early release, some compulsory redundancies may prove necessary, he said.
The Defence Secretary said that all the resources released by the changes would go into frontline services.
“It isn't about pleasing the accountants. It isn't about pleasing the Treasury. It is a military imperative that we have value for money and the objective of getting efficiency is to increase the fighting power of this country,” he said.
However, the decision to release the news in a written statement on the last day of Parliament before the summer recess caused anger among MPs.