A five-week public consultation begins today on the future use of land at RAF Mildenhall, which will be released when the USAF moves out.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), which owns the RAF Mildenhall airbase, has confirmed that at least part of the airbase will be released for housing development following the US withdrawal.
A more detailed programme for the USAF withdrawal, currently scheduled from 2023, and future MoD plans is expected by 2018.
Since the closure announcement was made, Forest Heath District Council, working with its local residents and businesses, has argued that any future use of the site has to be one that meets local needs and argues that means creating new employment to replace some of the jobs lost.
While the MoD has identified part of the site should be released for housing, the Mildenhall airbase cannot yet be considered as available and deliverable for this Local Plan period (2011–2031). That is due to the lack of decision over the rest of the site, the fact the area for new housing has not been identified by the MoD, that the USAF will not have left the site until 2023 and then land contamination issues must be identified.
Forest Heath District Council, Suffolk County Council, New Anglia LEP, The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP and Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Newmarket and District (which covers Mildenhall) have been working to prepare a vision document for the future use of all or part of the site.
Using Government funding, Forest Heath appointed strategic development and planning advisers Cushman and Wakefield to carry out an independent assessment of some of the ideas suggested at public and business engagement sessions earlier this year, to see if they are deliverable. They felt the future use of RAF Mildenhall should be a mix of aviation, employment and housing.
But they warned that any option will require significant funding support from the public sector and suggest a new passenger or cargo airport would not be viable.
However, they say 200 acres of the 1,087 acres should be protected so that detailed business planning and discussion can be held with various aviation operators, for example maintenance and repair or modifications.
The prospectus is now going out to public consultation.
Cllr James Waters, Leader of Forest Heath District Council, said: “We have a once in a lifetime chance to work with our communities, our local businesses, including the Chamber of Commerce, the LEPs, the county council, the MoD and the Government to secure a positive legacy for Mildenhall. The money spent today will bring an economic return for generations to come.
“Our vision is long term and is on behalf of our communities. The prospectus is our ambition for the site and beyond. So make sure you have your say during the public consultation and we will present our findings to the Government later this year.”
Forest Heath is hosting two drop-in sessions for residents to find out more and comment on the vision for RAF Mildenhall. They are between 4pm and 8pm on September 29 at Forest Heath District Council Office and between 4pm and 8pm on October 5 at the Jubilee Centre in Mildenhall.
The Chamber of Commerce will also be co-hosting a business consultation event with Forest Heath on October 5.
Matthew Darroch-Thompson, chairman of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Newmarket and District, said: “We believe it is vital that businesses are able to actively influence and shape the future of this site.
In particular, we are clear from the work we have already done with our members, that the site – if it is to be redeveloped – must be a mixed-use development and not just for housing.”
The consultation closes on October 11.
You can take part in the public consultation online at www.westsuffolk.gov.uk/consultations
Printed copies of the consultation questions are available in Mildenhall at: Forest Heath District Council Offices, College Heath Road; Library, College Heath Road; Parish Council office, Jubilee Centre; the swimming pool and the bus station.
Please email enquiries on the consultation to firstname.lastname@example.org