Seize on opportunity to make RAF Mildenhall a “business powerhouse” say business and council leaders

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PICTURE ANDY ABBOTT 10/7/2003
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EADT AERIALS - EADT FIRST USE ONLY RAF mildenhall PICTURE ANDY ABBOTT 10/7/2003 EADT 2 04 05 EADT 10 08 06

RAF Mildenhall has an opportunity to become a “business powerhouse” generating hundreds of jobs and should not just be sold for housing, business and council leaders have claimed.

RAF Mildenhall has an opportunity to become a “business powerhouse” generating hundreds of jobs and should not just be sold for housing, business and council leaders have claimed.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence announced its intention to sell some of the land for housing when the US Air Force leaves in 2022, with it not clear how much of the site was to be released.

Matthew Darroch-Thompson, chairman of the Newmarket and District Chamber of Commerce, has attended meetings with interested bodies, including Forest Heath District Council, and says the huge site could be a major boost for the local economy.

“It’s a good sign as to how seriously Forest Heath is taking this issue that it is willing to listen to our chamber and hence our members at this early stage,” he said. “They agreed with our view that the Mildenhall site offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a business powerhouse on the site that is a magnet for local and national companies to invest in and relocate to.”

However, he has voiced concerns that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation – which is responsible for selling the site – has a “political steer” to get the most money from the sale as well, which could mean selling it all for housing.

“The big issue as far as I’m concerned is that there’s a clash of interests here,” he said.

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“The Defence Infrastructure Organisation, they have what was described to us as a pretty clear political steer. Their job is to get the most they can in terms of cash.

“The most would be to sell the whole lot for houses. Their imperative is to get the most money for it. But I suspect the Forest Heath view is that what’s far more important is something that’s going to benefit the area as a whole.”

Forest Heath has previously said it would like to see the land put to a use that creates a range of jobs in the area.

Leader James Waters said: “We have held some very constructive meetings with our communities and our local business leaders and were able to clear up some of the confusion and rumours that have filled the void in the last few months.

“We all share a common goal in that we recognise this as a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really benefit employment, education and skills, and the overall quality of life in the area.”

He said Forest Heath is now building its business case, investigating what could be achieved on the site.

Keeping part of it for aviation use is being looked at, he said, are well as gauging interest from various other business sectors to see if there could be a “business powerbase” on the site.

“All of that will help us prepare our business case which we will take back out to consultation with our communities and business leaders before presenting as evidence to the MoD later in the year,” he said.

Mr Darroch-Thompson agreed with Mr Waters putting the site to aviation use was a possibility, suggesting the site could become a destination for aircraft maintenance.

He said the chamber favoured a mixed-land use for the site with business opportunities alongside housebuilders.

“Personally, what I think is terribly important is that whatever happens to the site it is providing jobs for people,” he said.

The USAF calculated the closure of RAF Mildenhall, coupled with changes at neighbouring RAF Lakenheath, would see the loss of 2,900 local jobs.

Newmarket and district’s chamber said it wanted to ensure the development of the site offset these losses “as much as possible”.