Technology could fill the void in West Suffolk when RAF Mildenhall closes
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Science, technology and engineering are three words which many are hoping will become synonymous with west Suffolk if several new projects can be pulled off.
One of these projects is set to launch in May, as councils and business leaders look to bring thousands of jobs to the region and create the “A11 Technology Corridor” (working title). A detailed report into the project was published last week, setting out how technology hubs could be created along the A11 in Suffolk and Norfolk.
With sites around Newmarket, Red Lodge and Thetford, the report’s authors claim the A11 Technology Corridor will inject more than half-a-billion pounds into the economy by 2031 – potentially a much-needed shot in the arm when thousands of US Air Force employees and dependants leave RAF Mildenhall in 2022.
Commissioned by Forest Heath, South Norfolk and Breckland District councils, the lengthy document looks into how the region can benefit from the £100million dualling of the A11 between Mildenhall and Thetford. The scheme has been labelled a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity by politicians and – combined with large-scale research park projects in Haverhill and the potential of the huge RAF Mildenhall site – it could be a game changer.
Chris Starkie is managing director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – a potential funder of the A11 corridor project.
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“We have long recognised the growth potential of the A11 corridor,” he said. “It was highlighted in our Strategic Economic Plan for Suffolk and Norfolk published in 2014 and we are already working on major projects along the route including the future development at RAF Mildenhall.
“Bringing new houses and infrastructure to the site and surrounding area will help to attract new jobs, businesses and investment to our growing economy.”
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Welcoming the detailed A11 report, which highlights potential for 9,000 well-paid jobs, 20,000 homes and 700,000 sqm of industrial and commercial space between Newmarket and Norwich, he added: “This report takes the concept even further with credible plans for new jobs, housing and businesses, and we are keen to work with local authorities along the length of the A11 to progress their ideas further.”
For Forest Heath, the desertion of RAF Mildenhall by the US Air Force is the biggest challenge the district has had to face in many years. With 3,000 airmen and their thousands of dependants and thousands of both UK and US civilian jobs, the loss of income for businesses could be devastating.
James Waters, Forest Heath council leader, has identified science, technology and engineering as industries that can not only replace the lost employment but exceed it.
“The A11 corridor and the base should be looked at together,” said Mr Waters. “We are going to start getting a business case together for RAF Mildenhall and the technology industry has huge potential.”
Last month the Ministry of Defence, which owns RAF Mildenhall, announced much of the site would be sold – although a focus on building thousands of homes did shock many local people.
Mr Waters continued: “It wasn’t helpful, the way the announcement was communicated. But we are back singing from the same hymn sheet – and creating jobs is our focus.
“If we can benefit from the overheating of Cambridge and bring high-quality jobs, world-leading businesses into Forest Heath, it will not only be a case of replacing the lost jobs, we can create even more.”
The idea of feeding off the world-leading science industry centred around Cambridge has gained traction as property prices soared over the border, with many believing west Suffolk could be a competitive offering for technology companies.
Mr Waters added: “We want to deliver a better quality of living, a better quality of jobs and a better quality of life – the technology industry will help us achieve this and more.”