RAF base's future is secure

By Dave GooderhamAN American military base still has a future in Suffolk, even if plans to move 1,000 troops away from the region go-ahead, it has been announced.

By Dave Gooderham

AN American military base still has a future in Suffolk, even if plans to move 1,000 troops away from the region go-ahead, it has been announced.

Just a day after the East Anglian Daily Times revealed the 1,000 strong 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall looked set to leave the area, military chiefs have played down speculation about the future of the base.

A spokesman for RAF Mildenhall said: “The future of RAF Mildenhall is not dependant on any mission or squadron on the base and we feel our future is secure.

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“The European Command has said in the past that Mildenhall is a base of international military value and vital to their role in Europe and NATO operations.”

The move, announced by United States European Command chief General James Jones to Congress this week, is part of sweeping changes to meet new and growing threats across the world.

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But it has led to fears the plan could have serious repercussions to the west Suffolk economy unless the RAF station is replaced by a similar-sized facility.

Many believe RAF Mildenhall's multi-million-dollar new runaway - one of the biggest in Europe - would be ideal for a civilian airport.

Residents living near the base gave a mixed reaction yesterday to the news their American neighbours could be heading home.

One civilian worker at the base, who asked not to be named, said: “This has been on the cards for a long time, but I am not unduly worried about it.

“I don't think it will make much difference in the community either way. Since Eastern Europe has opened up, there have been more problems in the Middle East and this is a sign of those changes.

“But I do think there could be a significant effect on letting properties in the area as it is a big part of the local economy. If the base was to close, the rental market could effectively collapse.”

But 22-year-old Richard Atkin, whose father was in the British military, did not share the same gloomy view.

“I highly doubt this news will cause the base to shut. It is a vital part of this area and I think businesses would close down if we lost the base,” he said.

“My father now runs a vehicle repair business in Kenny Hill and about 80% of his clientele are Americans.

“It would also affect the living of local hotels, who I believe take in a lot of the troops while they wait for their own accommodation.

“I think there could be a crisis in the local area if Mildenhall closed down and we would need to have something on a similar scale if the community was to survive.”

Businesses close to the base also gave differing opinions about the news - with many fearing a disastrous impact on the local economy.

Nigel Coe, owner of furniture retailers A.G. Coe & Son Ltd, said: “I would be very surprised if the Americans left Mildenhall.

“A lot of local companies depend on trade from the base and there are huge benefits to businesses in the area. The bases are part of everyday life and constantly contribute to the community.”

But Patsy Hereford, owner of the Sessions Hair Studio, which sits opposite the base, said she did not think any move would affect her trade with her business attracting clients from as far afield as London.

“I don't think our business would suffer too much as we have as many British clients as Americans. We are an established salon and a lot of clients are also not from this area,” she added.

It is believed the 352nd Special Operations Group - which has undertaken missions in both Gulf conflicts and Kosova - would move sometime between 2011 and 2015 at a cost of $200million to an undisclosed location south of the Alps.


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