Members of the public were told on Friday that ‘all options are on the table’ when it comes to the future of RAF Mildenhall.
Speaking at the first public meeting of the Mildenhall and Lakenheath Airbases Group (MALAG), The Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP said officials were ‘holding their cards quite close to their chest’, but that things should become clearer after a MOD assessment of its land assets is published later this year.
In the meantime, he said the group needed to use its time wisely to get ‘a plan ready to go, funded and organised, so there’s not a hiatus’ when the Americans do pull out.
The United States Air Force has said it will start pulling out 3,200 personnel in 2019 and will have completed its withdrawal from the base by 2022.
Ian Gallin, chief executive of Forest Heath, said: “This actually provides a really exciting opportunity.”
He said the site presented a 100,000 square metres of employment opportunities and an A11 study was being carried out to assess the ‘opportunities, barriers and risks’ associated with developing it.
He added that the expansion of RAF Lakenheath, which is to become the first European base to host US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons, could bring a ‘significant return of investment’ in an upgrade of the A11.
Members of the public expressed support for an upgrade of the road infrastructure, particularly around the Fiveways Roundabout, while
Adrian Graves said there was a ‘compelling case’ for RAF Mildenhall to be used as an air freight hub.
Speaking after the meeting, Laura Welham-Halstead, of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, said: “I think it’s really good to hear communities and businesses thinking about its future use and being so open to the exciting opportunities that exist at Mildenhall. They really want to see the site prosper and that’s something we, as a group, can help make happen.”
Cllr James Waters, leader of Forest Heath, who chairs MALAG, said: “This is a chance for our area not just to capitalise by attracting new businesses off the back of the A11 upgrade, but to seek better infrastructure improvements, national investment and devolution to let us get on with the job ourselves.”
He added: “We all agree Mildenhall must not be mothballed. We all recognise that there are opportunities to be grasped. We are working closely with key local partners which include among others Suffolk County Council, the LEPs, the USAF and our MP – all of which puts us in a very strong position going forward.”
A further public meeting of MALAG will be announced in due course.