Vital funds secured for RAF Mildenhall transformation once US air forces exit Suffolk airbase

RAF Mildenhall - USAF forces are moving out

RAF Mildenhall - USAF forces are moving out - Credit: Archant

RAF Mildenhall has a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to shape its future with the award of £230,000 government cash.

That was the view of Forest Heath District Council leader James Waters after Whitehall officials announced the major grant for the west Suffolk airbase.

The money is set to be ploughed into the site’s future and prevent it from being mothballed – with the US Air Force (USAF), which currently occupies the base, due to leave by 2022.

Forest Heath successfully bid for the money, beating several other organisations in securing the grant which will also support the Mildenhall Hub – a project which aims to bring together the town’s public services.

Mr Waters said: “This is a vote of confidence in the work we have been doing. It shows a commitment from the government that mothballing is not something they want to see happen, and they have invested a quarter of million in securing the best outcome for the area.

“The government has recognised that there are huge challenges that lay before us in preparing for the closure of RAF Mildenhall in around six years time.

“The decisions that we make over the next few years can shape or break local growth and prosperity. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to use publicly-owned land to shape the future and fortunes of Mildenhall and the surrounding area and we will not let this chance slip.

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“The government, in giving us this funding, recognise that we, working with our local communities are best placed to take this forward.”

In January, the USAF announced the 3,200 airmen and 1,000 civilians on the base, from the 100th Air Refuelling Wing and 352nd Special Operations Wing, would leave by 2022. The site will then transfer back to the hands of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

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The council and other partners have been keen to see the base turn over to civilian use, with everything from a new international airport to a Formula 1 racetrack touted.

Mr Waters added: “We expect to find out in the early part of next year whether the MoD plans to retain the RAF Mildenhall site.

“We have pressed home our residents’ concerns that under no circumstances should it be mothballed. Should it release part or all of the site, there is a huge opportunity of jobs and housing growth to be considered within our local plan.”

“Mildenhall is leading the way. Where Mildenhall leads the rest of the country follows and I will do all I can to help deliver this.”

When it came to the Mildenhall Hub, which will bring the likes of schools, leisure facilities, council offices, NHS and other services on to one site, he said: “We are leading the field when it comes to bringing services together. Yes it has been tried elsewhere its bits and parts, but we are really showing how it can work.”

West Suffolk constituency MP Matt Hancock, who Mr Waters credited with doing a “great deal” in pressing home the region’s concerns over mothballing, said: “This is excellent news for Mildenhall. I am delighted that the government is putting its money where its mouth is and funding the further development for the town’s innovative hub project.

The cash, which comes from the One Public Estate programme, was applied for by West Suffolk councils (Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury Borough Council), Suffolk County Council, Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and the West Suffolk NHS Clinical Commissioning Group.

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