Shared military and civilian use of RAF Mildenhall not ruled out

Entrance to RAF Mildenhall. ENGANL00120130608144929
Entrance to RAF Mildenhall. ENGANL00120130608144929

A shared military and civilian use for the soon-to-close RAF Mildenhall could be on the cards, a Government action group meeting has heard.

The first meeting of the Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth (MAM) working group, formed after the USAF announced it was pulling out of the airbases in January, was held this morning at the Forest Heath District Council offices in Mildenhall.

Chaired by West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock, it was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Defence (MOD), local councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hancock said although the MOD did not have a firm plan for the site, a shared military and civilian use had not been ruled out.

“The first meeting was very constructive and there was a shared sense of purpose and commitment to working together to explore all the options and secure Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth’s future. It is vital the time before the departure of the US forces is used wisely, and this group will ensure that it is,” he said.

The Business Minister added other potential uses could include a local regional airport or an excavation site for archeological remains.

“I established this group to ensure we help those affected, make the right decisions on the future of these sites and explore every potential opportunity for the local economy,” he said.

“These bases have long been part of the fabric of the community, so this is important work and the Government will do everything possible to support the local economy and help it adjust.
“I am confident we will have a decision from the MOD in good time, so that when the Americans leave from 2019 we have a fully developed plan for Mildenhall in place and ready to go.”

Leader of Forest Heath District Council, James Waters, said he wishes the local communities and businesses to be ‘key players’ in the base’s future.

“I think today’s meeting was a good start,” he said. “The message in and around the room was that we understand there are protocols the MOD have to go through, but we want to help them in any way we can.

“I would like to think that we will have a clear indication within the next three months of whether or not the MOD is interested in using the site. We as a community, as a district and as West Suffolk would like to be the key players in managing that regeneration of that base.

“We will be making a case that the economic benefits of the Mildenhall base will vastly outweigh any MOD use for that facilitiy in the future. We are the best option, regardless of what that may be.

“There is a suggestion we could share the base with the MOD, it is a 1,200 acre site so there is potential for that. When the Americans do leave there are some massive assets there which could be used within the community, and it is important that it is not stripped of them.

“There is a firm commitment to work together, to tackle any impact that the closure may have on jobs and our local economy to ensure that Mildenhall emerges stronger from this.”

The working group has agreed to reassemble in six to eight weeks’ time.

Forest Heath District Council today also announced the dates of three meetings to discuss the base’s future with the community.

The first of these takes place on Thursday, February 26, and will assess the impact of the closure of RAF Mildenhall 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.

The outcome of all of these discussions will then be presented to a future meeting of the MAM working group.