06 Sep 2016
A five-week public consultation launches today on a vision for the future use of land at RAF Mildenhall, which will be released when the United States Visiting Forces (USVF) cease operations. The 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. Ultimately, the entirety of the site may be released by the MOD, but confirmation of this is subject to the wider planning for the UK’s military estate. A more detailed programme for the USVF withdrawal, currently scheduled from 2023 and future MoD plans is expected by 2018.
Ever since the closure announcement was made, Forest Heath District Council, working alongside its local residents and businesses, has consistently argued that any future use of the site has to be one that meets local needs – and that is not about simply selling off land for housing but about creating new employment to replace some of the jobs that will be lost.
While the MoD has identified that 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). This is due to the lack of decision nationally over the rest of the site, the fact that the area for new housing has not been identified by the MoD, that the USVF will not have left the site until 2023 and not until after that date will the land contamination issues be identified before work can start on remedying them.
The MoD is currently deciding if it needs to retain elements of the technical and living accommodation on site for British military use. The MoD has now said this decision will be made by 2018.
In parallel, Forest Heath District Council, Suffolk County Council, New Anglia LEP, The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP and Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Newmarket & District (which covers the Mildenhall area) have been working in partnership 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 & 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. Cushman & Wakefield were also asked to come up with a prospectus to outline the best option for the site. They concluded that the future use of the RAF Mildenhall site should incorporate a mix of aviation, employment land and new housing.
But they warned that any option will require significant funding support from the public sector not just for the supporting infrastructure, but also to remedy any contamination issues on the site.
The independent assessment also suggests that the delivery of a new passenger or cargo airport on the site would not be feasible. The market assessment it carried out, which shapes the prospectus, said that an airport at Mildenhall could only expect to see 600,000 passengers a year, which given standard operating costs was unlikely to be viable. Cushman & Wakefield do suggest, however, that 200 acres of the 440 hectare (1087 acres) site, should be protected so that detailed business planning and discussion with various types of aviation operators, for example maintenance and repair or modifications and cargo conversions, can take place.
The prospectus is now going out to public consultation.
Cllr James Waters, Leader of Forest Heath District Council, said: “We have been clear from the start – the base closure is not the end for Mildenhall, but a new beginning. 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.
“The clean-up costs of the site will be a challenge, the infrastructure costs will be a challenge, and it must also be recognised that the jobs lost through the closure cannot simply be replaced overnight.
“Our vision is long term and is on behalf of our communities. The prospectus is our ambition for the site and beyond. It is not a masterplan for the site but is designed to show how new industry and new jobs at Mildenhall can be delivered, and to influence the Government as they consider its future use.
“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 will be hosting two drop-in sessions for residents to find out more and comment on the vision for RAF Mildenhall. The drop in sessions will take place between 4pm and 8pm on 29 September at the Forest Heath District Council Office and between 4pm and 8pm on 5 October at the Jubilee Centre in Mildenhall.
The Chamber of Commerce will also be co-hosting a business consultation event with Forest Heath on 5 October.
Matthew Darroch-Thompson, Chairman of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Newmarket and District, said: “As the voice of the business community, Suffolk Chamber is delighted to be co-hosting a business breakfast with the council at which the future options for this huge site will be on display and the views of our wealth creators sought.
“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 Tuesday 11 October – you can take part in the public consultation online at www.westsuffolk.gov.uk/mildenhallfuture. Printed copies of the consultation questions are available at these locations in Mildenhall:
Please email any enquiries regarding the consultation to firstname.lastname@example.org