08 Jan 2016
This week marks a year since the US Office of the Secretary of Defense announced that the RAF Mildenhall airbase would close by 2022.
At the same time the USAF also committed its future to West Suffolk with the announcement that RAF Lakenheath would expand in 2021 with the arrival of approximately 1,600 extra personnel alongside F-35A jets.
It’s estimated that as a result of the changes at both RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath (including the announcement in November to relocate 350 personnel from 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons from Lakenheath to Italy)that there will be a net loss of 2,900 jobs across both airbases (including USAF personnel).
Forest Heath has been working with St Edmundsbury Borough, Suffolk County, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire District councils and the New Anglia and Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEPs to understand the current impacts of both bases, and to prepare for the forthcoming changes and the implications this has for the local economy, housing, health, education and other public services.
Early indications are that, currently, the two bases could be worth as much as £700 million a year in total to the West Suffolk, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire economies. This is after direct employment on-base and indirect employment associated with spending on and off-base is taken into account.
The MOD is expected to announce its decision in the spring regarding the future use of the RAF Mildenhall site.
Cllr James Waters, Leader of Forest Heath said: “We are pushing the MOD to make a decision regarding any future military use for all or part of the RAF Mildenhall site. The Council’s position is very clear, we want a commitment that the site will not be mothballed when the USAF leave - the potential damage of doing so is clear for all to see.”
During 2015 Forest Heath held meetings with residents, businesses, community groups, Suffolk County Council, Local Enterprise Partnerships, the USAF, MOD, and the Government – all to discuss the concerns and opportunities from the changes to both airbases, and to ensure that local voices are heard at the national table.
Alongside that the Council has been carrying out work to understand both the positive and negative impacts that the bases have on the local economy.
Cllr James Waters, Leader of Forest Heath said: “Ultimately, Forest Heath and its communities are best placed to lead on the economic regeneration of Mildenhall. We have been successful in securing Government funding to plan for the future of Mildenhall including the base site, to bring new employment to Mildenhall and to help our communities rebuild for the future.
“There is still much work to do and when the MOD announcement is made, we will look to hold further meetings to work with our communities, businesses and local housing representatives.”