Norfolk ready to welcome Lightning II jets

Norfolk's deep emotional attachment to RAF Marham was made abundantly clear 12 months ago when the county celebrated success in its campaign to save the base from closure in a government reorganisation.

But the celebrations could only last so long. For while the announcement that the base would continue to be home to three Tornado squadrons meant thousands of jobs would remain in Norfolk, the Tornado itself was nearing the end of its operational life span.

Today's revelation that defence chiefs have earmarked Marham as the home for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) almost certainly means the base's future is secure for decades.

Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk council, said: 'This is very, very good news. It's hugely important; its contribution to the economy is enormous.

'We're very proud to be home to them. Local strength of feeling must have played a part in the decision.

'My congratulations would go to Elizabeth Truss and the EDP, it goes to show what can be achieved when the borough council, the county council and the media get our heads together and go for something.'

The arguments have always stacked up for the base, both strategically and economically. In December 2010, a delegation from Norfolk handed in a 36,000-signature petition to Downing Street, calling for the base to be saved.

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A few weeks later, Tornado jets from Marham were in the skies just hours after world leaders agreed to the use of force to safeguard Libyan civilians from Col Gaddafi's crumbling regime.

Norfolk squadrons played a leading role in the operation, from precision strikes which neutralised Gaddafi's air defences to patrolling the desert in search of the dictator's tanks.

Defence minister Peter Luff told the EDP earlier this year that the success of jets flying from Marham in that conflict had been noticed by officials considering where to base JSF aircraft.

After hearing today's news Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'This is encouraging news for RAF Marham and for Norfolk.

'I am really pleased that Marham looks to have been selected as the home for these new aircraft, as it would further safeguard the future of the base.

'The Make it Marham campaign was strongly supported by Norfolk MPs, local councils, local media and tens of thousands of residents. It was a stand-out example of Norfolk working together for the good of our county.

'This continued united front to the government regarding the economic and military rationale of choosing RAF Marham has undoubtedly played a key role in this encouraging announcement.'

While the Libyan conflict was still raging, defence chiefs announced that Marham-based XIII Sqdn would be one of two fast jet squadrons to be disbanded as part of the strategic defence review.

As all three armed services braced themselves for cuts which would see warships mothballed, the Harrier jump jet and Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft grounded and regiments scrapped, Norfolk also waited for news on Marham – which contributes an estimated �130m a year to the region's economy.

As well as providing a home to fast jet squadrons, the base is also home to the civilian contractors who carry out highly-specialised maintenance on the aircraft - re-located to Marham not so long ago at a cost of millions.

Breckland Councillor Ian Sherwood, speaking as ward member for Swaffham, said: 'I understand the Lightning II will play an important part in the UK's future defences and we are absolutely thrilled.

'This is fantastic news for RAF Marham and the communities around it.'

Cllr Sherwood added that he hoped the early indication that RAF Marham had been selected would be confirmed as soon as possible.

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