Uncertainty over future of thousands of staff at Wattisham Airfield
PUBLISHED: 05:36 29 March 2019 | UPDATED: 07:08 29 March 2019
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The future of Wattisham Airfield has been placed under scrutiny in a government review - in a move which one politician has called potentially "devastating" for the economy.
Intentions to reduce the number of helicopter bases across the UK have been made clear in a report released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Several smaller bases could be combined into one super-base, which function both as a headquarters for the Apache helicopters, and as a training facility for new recruits.
The impact on Wattisham, where several thousand members of staff are based, is unclear at this stage.
David Whybrow, district councillor for the Ringshall ward, said any cuts would be “completely unacceptable”.
“It would be devastating for the local economy,” he said, adding that the staff based at Wattisham are a vital source of income for local pubs, shops and restaurants.
“We need to start lobbying now – we really need to tackle this issue,” he added.
The MoD paper, released this month, sets out plans to look at the cost effectiveness of their infrastructure and equipment.
It reads: “The intent is to achieve consolidation onto fewer operational airfields in a way that best facilitates operational and training outputs and efficient equipment support.”
An MoD spokesman said: “There have been no decisions made on helicopter basing. Any decision that changes the current position will be formally announced through the relevant channels.”
Two years ago the MoD announced a six-year, multi-million pound Apache helicopter training contract for Wattisham.
The news was welcomed at the time by Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill as a “sustained commitment to our local airfield”.
Referring to the expensive scheme, Mr Whybrow added: “We as the public need to see the benefits of the investment.”
Wattisham was home to Prince Harry while he served with the Army Air Corps between May 2011 and January 2014.
He arrived after completing flying training on the Apache attack helicopter at the Army Aviation Centre in Middle Wallop to carry out further training at the Suffolk base before being deployed to Afghanistan.