Economy fears over airbase homes ruling in Suffolk

Concerns have been voiced that moves to get incoming service personnel to live on base will harm the economy of west Suffolk.

Last year, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath jointly pumped �585.6m into the economy as a result of employment, investment, use of local businesses and spending by employees.

However, the United States Air Force has implemented a 'mandatory housing assignment policy' under which staff on certain grades arriving at RAF Lakenheath, Mildenhall or Feltwell will be moved into military family housing on base.

Although incomers can decline base housing, they will no longer get overseas housing allowances if they do so.

Base chiefs say the policy will be reviewed either in six months time or when USAF accommodation is 98% full.

Colin Noble, county councillor for Row Heath and district councillor for Lakenheath, said although making more people live on base could have an impact on the wider west Suffolk economy, he hoped airmen and women would take the opportunity to explore Suffolk and all it has to offer.

'They (the USAF) have invested quite a lot in its accommodation and you can understand they want it used.

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'Lakenheath, Mildenhall, Beck Row and elsewhere have welcomed the Americans since the war,' he said.

'They've lived in and amongst the community and have been a valuable asset and even if they are living more on base I would encourage them to take the opportunity to come out and sample what the area has to offer.'

A spokeswoman for RAF Lakenheath said: 'As the 48th Fighter Wing strives to be a responsible steward of US taxpayer dollars, the new housing policy is driven by the need to fill 200-plus military-owned homes that are currently unoccupied.

'The current policy will be implemented until the occupancy rate for military family housing is at 98% or six months have passed, at which time the situation will be assessed and changes made as needed.

'We are always considering the impact our policies have on the local community.

'With regards to the local rental sector, this policy means that while newly arrived families will no longer have the option to decline a military home, it will not force families already living off-base to give up their houses and cut the ties they've forged with the local community.

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