'Milden Keynes' new town fear over 4,000 homes at RAF Mildenhall announcement
PUBLISHED: 09:33 20 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:00 21 January 2016
Calls for jobs, roads, schools and healthcare to come before any housing at RAF Mildenhall have been made as residents try to fathom Government plans for 4,000 homes on the site.
The Ministry of Defence made its long awaited decision on the base this week, a year after the US Air Force said they would leave by 2022, announcing plans to sell off the 1,100 acre site for housing.
With the population in Mildenhall, and villages bordering the base, totalling around 13,000, the 4,000 homes would nearly double the number of people in the area.
Before the announcement, residents would jokingly refer to the prospect of en masse house building at the base as “Milden Keynes”, with fears a new town like Milton Keynes would be built.
However, Forest Heath District Council and Newmarket and District Chamber of Commerce stressed infrastructure and jobs should come first, with housing built to meet demand.
Both called for sustainable plans for the future to be developed, with the prospect of the base being used by global science, engineering and technology companies to create “high quality” jobs.
Monday’s decision ended more than a year of speculation that the site may be mothballed or used by the British armed forces, with many positive about the future.
District leader James Waters said: “We have got what we have been pushing for, a decision from the MoD. It is not 4,000 homes being built now or even in six years. A plan to create high quality jobs comes first, the key is it has to be sustainable, with the infrastructure in place and the jobs in place and that is what we will be pushing for.”
He said public sessions of the Mildenhall and Lakenheath Action Group (MALAG) will be restarting shortly and the next round of local plan consultations will factor in RAF Mildenhall.
Graham Abbey, chairman of the chamber, agreed with Mr Waters that before any development of the base goes ahead, a bypass from the base to the A11 would have to be built, avoiding the much maligned Fiveways roundabout at Barton Mills.
Mr Abbey said: “Initially we were concerned that it was just housing the Government mentioned, and they made no mention about the creation of jobs and infrastructure.
“We have got to make sure we are not railroaded by the national government into creating just housing. It has got to benefit the local area and not just be a money pot for the national government.”
The MoD is releasing 12 sites for sale, including RAF Barnham near Thetford, in a bid to raise £500million.
Sarah Carter, of West Row Village Stores, was concerned the infrastructure to create a “commuter hub” for Cambridge or London was not there, with poor road connections and no railway line.
She said: “For West Row one of the issues is the number of rental houses for people at the base. So when they leave we will have empty houses, never mind a need for more. There are a whole series of obstacles that need to be addressed.
“Where will the thousands of people come from, where will they work? I know we are not talking about a few years from now, we are looking at 15 years down the line.
“I don’t think the community is that happy about the prospect of all those houses. It would change the character entirely.
“We don’t want to be part of a Milton Keynes style new town, a Milden Keynes, as that is not what everybody lives here for.”
Ms Carter said she feared for the loss of jobs when the base closed, with many British residents in the village working for the base. She agreed that if successful, a commercial use for RAF Mildenhall could be a huge benefit to the area.
“Anything that creates jobs and replaces those lost will be welcome,” she said.
John Smith, a member of the West Row Action Group which is fighting plans for 138 homes, said: “We were joking about Milden Keynes, but now it is reality.
“We are being told to accept that the character of the area will change forever, but that is not what the people want.”
In yesterday’s EADT a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said that planning permission for the 4,000 homes on RAF Mildenhall had been granted.
This is not the case and no application for the base has been submitted. The MoD apologised for the incorrect information.