RAF Mildenhall’s official base closure date now confirmed for 2023, as vision for future commercial and housing developments are outlined
PUBLISHED: 15:28 08 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:28 08 November 2016
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed they will release the entirety of RAF Mildenhall’s site when the US Air Force leave in 2023.
With the closure date pushed back a year, Forest Heath District Council and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock have reaffirmed their commitment to seeing through a sustainable vision for the base’s future and to avoid a potential ‘mothballing’ of the vast site.
The base is one of the largest single employers in Forest Heath and features one of the longest runways in Europe. Locally, many people have voiced concerns the loss of income from RAF Mildenhall’s 3,200 airmen, and many thousands of dependents, could damage their economy and housing market.
The MoD, which owns the site, announced in January that part of the site will be released for housing. It had also been considering whether it wanted to retain part of the site for British military use but yesterday confirmed it would release the entire base.
The announcement comes just a month after a public consultation in Forest Heath, which was designed to influence Government decisions on the future use of the site.
James Waters, leader of Forest Heath, said: “It is fast approaching two years since the United States Department for Defense announced its intention to relocate its operations away from RAF Mildenhall.
“I welcome the clarity and the opportunity that today’s announcement brings. We have been preparing for this. We have worked with our communities to identify the challenges ahead as well as their ambitions for the site.
“We have then had those ideas independently market tested to understand what is deliverable and equally what is not. There are some tough realities within that assessment.
“We have all heard the calls for a passenger or cargo airport and those calls continue – but there is little point chasing a dream if it is never going to happen and that is the reality of this market assessment.
“We do have a vision for the site that creates new jobs, provides land for new industry coupled with housing and aviation use centred around maintenance, repair and overhaul, a fantastic way to bring new employment to the area and retain use of the runway and other aviation infrastructure on site.
“Today’s announcement is the next step towards understanding how the regeneration of RAF Mildenhall will take place. It provides the opportunity to take the work of the Council and its partners and to say to the Government and the MoD, let’s work together to deliver new jobs for our local communities, increase local skills, let’s make sure that we get the right level of investment in new roads, new schools, health and other infrastructure needed to make this work.
“Now let�s work together to achieve an economic legacy for the site that we can all be proud of.”
Mildenhall Parish Council chairman Dr Richard Greenfield said “big questions” still remained, with the uncertainty about who would have the money to take on the base site and how it would be developed.
Despite the determination from Forest Heath and Mr Hancock, he said “mothballing” seemed the most concerning but likely prospect.
“I could list dozens of air bases where the USAF or the RAF have left, and they are still not being used,” he said. “My biggest concern is that it lays unused for a long period of time.
“Here in Mildenhall there are so many questions but no real answers. There is still the slim chance the USAF decide to stay. Most in the community would support a commercial airport taking over, but it seems very unlikely.”
Mr Hancock MP said he remains determined to see a plan put in place before the USAF go. He said: “We have been united in our determination that we have a plan in place...to look after people affected and so the site can be put to good use.
“Today’s announcement of a firm date by which they will leave the whole site is a very helpful step on that way.
“We now have six years to work together to make sure that, from the moment the base closes in 2023, we can put it to best use. “I pay tribute to the hard work of the Council and others so far, and I look forward to working with everyone involved to make sure we use the time wisely.”