Unknown impact of new helicopters

MULTI-million pound Apache helicopters will soon be flying over Suffolk – but environmental chiefs know nothing of their potential impact on the countryside.

MULTI-million pound Apache helicopters will soon be flying over Suffolk – but environmental chiefs know nothing of their potential impact on the countryside.

The aircraft, which cost £25million each, are due to start arriving at Wattisham Airfield from July, with the majority of the 32-strong fleet following in January 2005.

They will replace the Lynx helicopters stationed at the base, as part of £2billion government contract for 67 of the gunships.

But Mid Suffolk District Council has revealed it is still in the dark about the possible affects the move will have on the area.

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David Ellis, the council's head of environment and planning, said: "We've been told an environmental assessment would not be completed before the end of the year.

"But what has concerned us is the fact we've been told the helicopters are due to arrive before that.

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"Issues of noise and vibration, as well as the impact on wildlife, farm animals and air quality, won't have been studied by then.

"We also want to know when the aircraft would be used, as I think there's an indication they would be flying at night time. But all these questions remain open."

However, an army spokesman rejected claims the helicopters would be in use before an environmental assessment is complete.

He said: "We're currently in the process of carrying out an environmental impact study, which will be complete towards the end of this year.

"This will be seeking expert advice of other regiments who already have the Apaches and will be given to the council prior to the end of the year.

"There will be some arriving at Wattisham before this but they will only be used for ground training. The majority will then arrive in January 2005."

The spokesman added the noise created is not likely to be any different to that created by the current Lynx helicopters.

But Mr Ellis said: "The council does realise it's essential for the country to have these aircraft and this is not an out and out resistance to having military aircraft within our vicinity.

"But I think the concerns we have is the fact that 32 aircraft will be stationed at Wattisham before consideration of the environmental impact is complete.

"Without the environmental assessment there's no way the council can tell whether the new aircraft would have a greater impact than the current ones at the base."

Further talks are now set to take place between the council and army to iron out these issues.

The stationing of the gunships in Suffolk signals the beginning of a new era for the airfield.

Maggie Aggiss, of Wattisham Airfield Museum, said: "From what I've seen so far the helicopters look very good and it's great to see a continuation of flying from Wattisham.

"In relation to what we've had here before, I don't think they'll make that much noise and I don't think it'll make that much difference.

"I'm actually looking forward to their arrival."

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