Defence minister Nick Harvey gives boost to RAF Marham hopes

RAF Marham appears closer than ever to being named home of the military's new Joint Strike Fighter jets after a government minister all but ruled out the only other option as a base for the planes.

The government is yet to decide which of two potential sites, RAF Marham or RAF Lossiemouth, in Scotland, will be designated as the high-tech planes' UK land base.

The EDP has been campaigning for Marham, which employs 5,000 people in Norfolk, to win the role as it would secure the base's future and boost Norfolk's economy.

Hopes were raised yesterday when, in the House of Commons, defence minister Nick Harvey said it would 'not be practical' to locate the planes at Lossiemouth because the government had already decided to station the RAF's Euro-fighter Typhoon aircraft there.

The minister told MPs: 'A decision will be made as to where it will be based in good time for the introduction of the strike fighter into service.

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'Detailed work is taking place at the moment looking at the basing requirements and we will make a decision as soon as is practically possible.'

He added: 'It was announced that Typhoon is moving to Lossiemouth and, with the best will in the world, it would not be practical to have both fleets situated in one base.'

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The comments come just weeks after defence secretary Philip Hammond said RAF Marham was the 'logical choice' for Joint Strike Fighter, or F35, aircraft because of its engineering capabilities and proximity to Lakenheath, the US military base where American F35 planes will likely be located.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, another defence minister, Peter Luff, told the EDP that RAF Marham was 'very well placed' to win the role of being the base of British F35 aircraft.

Mr Harvey also confirmed yesterday that the government would 'take delivery' of the first of the UK's F35 aircraft later this week – however, Ministry of Defence sources confirmed this meant only that RAF pilots would be testing the jets in the US, not that planes would already be coming to the UK.

A decision on where the planes are based when they do eventually reach Britain is expected later this year.

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss, in whose constituency RAF Marham is situated, was among those who asked Mr Harvey about the basing decision in the Commons yesterday.

She said: 'The minister indicated that since the Typhoon is to be based at Lossiemouth, it would not be practical to have the JSF also there.

'This is extremely positive for RAF Marham as Marham was the other shortlisted base. The minister's announcement will provide significant reassurance for local businesses and service personnel in Norfolk.'

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