Government told it has three months to decide on military future of RAF Mildenhall
11:33 31 January 2015
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The government has been given three months to “make its mind up” over potential military use of RAF Mildenhall.
The demand was made today at the first working group meeting about the future of the region’s US Air Force bases at Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth, set to close by 2022.
The demand was made by Forest Heath District Council Leader James Waters, who said he “did not hold back” and made his message to the Ministry of Defence clear.
At the meeting, chaired by West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock, Mr Waters said he made a strong case for end of military use, claiming the “positive” economic benefit would be far greater with council backed plans for civilian use.
He said: “It was a positive meeting. We got our message across and everybody was listening. I told the MoD ‘we need to know in the next three months, we need some sort of steer’. We cannot and will not let the grass grow under our feet.
“I did not hold back. I told them we can make it (civilian use) stand up, the economic benefits will far outweigh what any MoD use could bring.”
Mr Waters also stressed that the council will be planning for the expansion at RAF Lakenheath, with new F-35 jets bringing over 1,000 personnel to the base.
Last year, RAF Mildenhall, with 3,200 airmen, 1,000 civilians and their thousands of dependents, brought £220 million to the region’s economy. The closure was announced by the US Department of Defence in early January and will take four to seven years.
The Business Minister Matthew Hancock said: “The first meeting was very constructive and there was a shared sense of purpose and commitment to working together to explore all the options.
“It is vital the time before the departure of the US forces is used wisely, and this group will ensure that it is.”
Despite the council’s demands, an MoD spokeswoman said that they will not take ownership of the site until at least 2019, and could not say whether military use would continue.
Mr Waters, who is a Conservative councillor for the Eriswell and the Rows, said that the views of the community were key to the future of the base.
He announced dates for a series of meetings with local businesses, residents and other interested parties.
The first of these takes place on Thursday, February 26, and will assess the impact of the closure on housing.
The focus will be on the local communities at a second meeting on Monday March 9.
Finally, a meeting on Wednesday March 11 will look at the impact of the closure on the economy, businesses and jobs.