Aviation site could bring opportunities for industry

EADT; Mike Page Aerial Photo Library; RAF Mildenhall USAF airfield; PICTURE COPYRIGHT MIKE PAGE - PI


Planes could continue to roar off the runway at RAF Mildenhall - despite the looming withdrawal of the US Air Force.

One day after the shock announcement of the north Suffolk base's imminent closure, Forest Heath District Council said it could buy the site from the government.

The 'world-class' runway and facilities have been described as a 'massive asset', with the closure viewed as a big opportunity to bring 'a lot more jobs' to the area.

Council leader James Waters said: 'The runway is one of the biggest in Europe, but that said, we will look at every angle.'

Meanwhile, MPs from across Norfolk and Suffolk are mobilising to fight for the future of the people of Mildenhall. Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, said he would not rest until everything possible was done to help people in the surrounding area, with a taskforce meeting shortly.

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'Helping affected local people is my absolute priority and I will not rest until everything possible has been done to help them and those in the surrounding areas. The Mildenhall, Alconbury and Molesworth (MAM) Working Group, which I will chair, will meet shortly, and engage with all stakeholders and the local community to secure Mildenhall's future,' he said. Meanwhile, North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said the first step was to see if the decision could be reversed, by putting pressure on the United States.

The former foreign office minister said the UK did have leverage as the lease to the United States on one of its biggest bases, Diego Garcia, was coming up for renewal. 'That is a separate issue, but we have got to be tough and use the leverage we have got. The first thing we have got to do is see if it might be reversible. If it is not reversible then we have got to do our level best to mitigate the loss and find a way of using the base, maybe for a huge IT park.'

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Cabinet minister and bordering MP Elizabeth Truss MP described the local economy as 'extremely resilient', adding that she believed a site like Mildenhall could provide many opportunities for industry.

'We have shown in the past that when MPs, councillors, businesses, press and local residents all work together, positive results can be achieved.'

She said that the Mildenhall Working Group, chaired by Matthew Hancock MP, would explore all the options for the future of the base.

Liberal Democrat minister Norman Lamb called for MPs to 'work together across the political divide' to support those affected. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said his constituents had made clear the closure would have a 'major impact' on the west of Suffolk and he was backing his colleague Mr Hancock saying that the taskforce would work practically and creatively to ensure new economic activity was generated in the area.

Norfolk MP and business minister George Freeman said: 'I'm sorry and sad to hear of the announcement from the USAF of the closure of Mildenhall, which has been a major part of the long and proud USAF presence in our region. It is good news to hear that USAF Lakenheath will be expanded with the new jets, and I look forward to working as a minister in the Department for Business to promote inward investment for new jobs and opportunities.'

Keith Simpson said: 'We have seen what we can achieve just by Norfolk MPs lobbying together, so with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire MPs we are talking about many MPs.'

Norwich MP Chloe Smith said Lakenheath and Mildenhall had been 'a very important part of Suffolk life for a long time'. The MP said there now needed to be an 'open-minded' and 'supportive' approach.

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