Suffolk base survives defence cuts

HUNDREDS of concerned servicemen and women have been told that they have a future at a Suffolk base in the wake of the biggest defence shake-up in decades.

HUNDREDS of concerned servicemen and women have been told that they have a future at a Suffolk base in the wake of the biggest defence shake-up in decades.

Defence minister Geoff Hoon announced radical modernisation plans for the UK's armed forces yesterday.

Although four squadrons at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, will be phased out, affecting almost 300 servicemen and women, station commander Steve Abbott said the base's future was safe and there would be no redundancies.

He said: “In my judgement, there was never any possibility RAF Honington would close as it is an integral part of the RAF capabilities.

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“There is massive infrastructure and millions of capital investment planned for the base with new barracks, a childcare centre and a regional rehabilitation unit for the whole of East Anglia. I think this demonstrates a commitment to RAF Honington as one of the core sites in defence.

“And Mr Hoon confirmed that the RAF Regiment, which is based at RAF Honington, has a secure future in defence.”

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Initial fears that the base, home to 1,300 military staff and a further 300 civilians, would close were allayed by Mr Hoon's announcement in the House of Commons.

But the base did not entirely miss the defence minister's axe with the phasing out of the squadrons, which operate the £30 million Rapier Ground-Based Air Defence system.

This operation will now be transferred to the Royal Artillery and nearly 300 servicemen and women affected will be moved to different positions elsewhere on the base.

“We will not be standing down immediately as there has to be a transition phase,” Station Commander Abbott confirmed.

“But how long that will be will be subject to a working group and that information will come out in due course.

“The servicemen I have spoke too were bitterly disappointed as they have been committed to something with professionalism and expertise and it is no longer required.

“But the nature of warfare is that it changes continuously and I am sure they will be buoyed by the fact this professionalism and expertise will be required elsewhere. Our message is that it is business as usual at RAF Honington.”

Speaking yesterday, Mr Hoon said the services would be restructured, better trained and, backed by substantial long-term investment, better equipped to deal with modern day security challenges.

Adam Ingram, minister of state for the Armed Forces, said: “I do understand that the loss of four squadrons of the RAF Regiment will come as a blow to those affected.

“As the threats we face change, the way we respond must also change and that means restructuring to make sure that our forces we invest in are relevant to the threats we face.”

Following yesterday's announcement, the Reverend Canon Sally Fogden, vicar of the Honington parish, spoke of her relief. “At least people know now,” she said.

She said there had been a lot of anxiety through the community about the situation.

“The RAF support a lot of organisations in the village, it's that sort of relationship where we rely upon each other,” she added.

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