RAF Mildenhall extension ‘good news’ for businesses
Businesses around RAF Mildenhall are welcoming news that the base will remain open until 2027.
The base, near Bury St Edmunds, was scheduled to close in 2023 but the United States Air Force has now said this has been pushed back by at least four years.
A report published in 2016 estimated that RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall were worth nearly £700m to the local economy.
People working on the base and their families spend £190m per year in the local area with businesses adapting to cater for the needs of service personnel and their families.
Michael James, manager at Mildenhall Car Sales which specialises in selling automatic cars to US service personnel, estimates about 60% of their custom comes from the base.
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"We're happy. It's good for us. As much as we might not like to admit it, the local economy relies on the base," he said.
While there are 109 houses on RAF Mildenhall for USAF personnel to live in, many with families choose to rent accommodation in the surrounding area.
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This demand makes up 80% of Shires Residential business in Mildenhall and 20% of their business in Bury St Edmunds.
George Aves, lettings manager at the company, said: "Mildenhall staying open and the expansion of Lakenheath is very good. It's very important to the business and a good market."
However, the uncertainty around the future of the base has prompted some landlords to consider selling their properties in the area.
Some former service personnel choose to remain in the UK following their tour of duty, having met partners and even started families, and as a result many seek legal advice to ensure they have the correct paperwork to enable them to stay.
Sohan Sidhu, partner in immigration at Ellisons solicitors, who has worked with US military personnel since 2005, said: "We do a fair amount of work at RAF Mildenhall.
"It's a strong client base and we offer specialist advice. Often when we are instructed it's the first time that a service person has to have contact with the UK government."
A cottage industry catering to plane spotters has also sprung up around the airbase.
Lee Gray runs The Willows Campsite which borders the base. Of more than 1,000 people who stay each year, 90% come to observe the aircraft flying over the campsite.
He said: "I'm very happy, but I can't see it ever closing - they just keep extending it."