Campaigners call for government to end uncertainity over RAF Marham’s future

A powerful message has been sent to defence secretary Liam Fox calling for him to end the uncertainty over the future of RAF Marham 'not next month but now'.

Norfolk's last flying Royal Air Force base is under threat from plans to reduce the size of the force's Tornado fleet and base it at a single airfield, possibly in Scotland.

But, with a decision yet to be officially announced, campaigners battling to save the base yesterday joined hundreds of people to surround the Tuesday Market Place in King's Lynn for a parade by Marham's servicemen and women.

It is hoped the show of support has sent a strong message to the government ahead of its Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) announcement - which is expected next month.

South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, whose constituency includes the base, told the EDP: 'It is so important to show support at this time when crews from RAF Marham are involved in operations in Libya and Afghanistan.

'It must be frustrating and worrying for them to still be in the dark about the final outcome of the basing review.

'We need to make sure they are being supported in every way which most certainly includes having the security of knowing what their future holds.

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'I will be pressing Liam Fox to end this uncertainty, not next week, not next month, but now.'

Fellow Make it Marham campaigner and West Norfolk mayor Colin Sampson said: 'I hope that the uncertainty over the very existence of RAF Marham will be brought to a speedy conclusion with the good news we all wish and hope for.

'It must be extremely difficult for the servicemen and women of RAF Marham to carry on their duties in Afghanistan and Libya while facing all this uncertainty.

'I am fairly confident RAF Marham will be safe but you never know what might happen so the sooner the decision is announced the better.'

The parade comes after Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant claimed the RAF was under huge demand with intense air operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

In a briefing paper for senior politicians, the RAF's second in command said morale was fragile and the service was at full stretch and 'running hot'.

According to Ms Truss these comments further prove the case to keep the flying base open.

She added: 'The whole Libyan conflict has shown how important it is to have a rapid reaction force located at Marham.'

Yesterday's show of support also comes as personnel from XXXI Squadron continue to prepare to be deployed to Afghanistan. Tornado jets have saved countless lives providing close air support to UK and Coalition forces fighting the Taliban.

Marham's station commander Peter Rochelle praised the 'fantastic' work of his crews as well as the support from the borough and the whole county in recent times during yesterday's parade.

He added: 'We remain indebted to the community for such fantastic support over the years particularly during such challenging times and over the last 18 months.'

He then told the EDP: 'Everyone at the base is very grateful for the support from the local community.

'The physical show of support during any parade is key because those men and women on parade will go back and talk to colleagues about the cheers and the positivity will seep right across the station and boost morale.'

Asked about his thoughts on yesterday's parade possibly being the last by an RAF Squadron in West Norfolk, he replied: 'The thought didn't cross my mind at all.'

He later added: 'At the moment our focus and attention are on Afghanistan and the situation in Libya.'

The fight to save RAF Marham united MPs, councils, businesses and communities across the county, under the Make it Marham banner in November last year.

The campaign, supported by the EDP, peaked two weeks later as a delegation travelled to 10 Downing Street to deliver a petition with nearly 37,000 signatures.

Since then, Make it Marham campaigners have repeatedly called for an end to the 'uncertainty' over the future of RAF Marham.

They also demanded the government keep the base open after the 'vital role' Tornados from the base played in early attacks on Colonel Gaddafi's forces in Libya.

A spokesman at the MoD has said the announcement could be made at 'any time' between now and July, when parliament rises for its summer recess (July 19).

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