Vision for future of RAF Mildenhall goes to public consultation

The MOD plan to sell RAF Mildenhall with the possibility of 4000 houses going up on the site.

The MOD plan to sell RAF Mildenhall with the possibility of 4000 houses going up on the site. - Credit: Gregg Brown

A vision of life after the American air force leave Mildenhall has been put forward, with the government urged to commit funding to ensure the base is not mothballed.

Local authorities and business organisations have launched a five-week long consultation on the new proposals, with people encouraged to submit their ideas on how the vast RAF Mildenhall base could be used when the US Air Force depart in 2023.

The joint plan was published by Forest Heath District Council, Suffolk County Council, the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cambridge and Peterborough and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

The 36 page document calls for continued aviation use at the base but ruled out a passenger or commercial airport and warned against building a 'sterile commuter town'.

James Waters, leader of Forest Heath, said: 'We have been clear from the start – the base closure is not the end for Mildenhall, but a new beginning.

'The clean-up costs of the site will be a challenge, the infrastructure costs will be a challenge, and it must also be recognised that the jobs lost through the closure cannot simply be replaced overnight.

'Our vision is long term and is on behalf of our communities. The prospectus is our ambition for the site and beyond. It is not a masterplan for the site but is designed to show how new industry and new jobs at Mildenhall can be delivered, and to influence the Government as they consider its future use.'

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The MoD have already announced that they intend to release part of the 1,087 acre site for around 4,000 homes. This caused some concern among residents and businesses, who called for jobs to come before housing.

Matthew Darroch-Thompson, chairman of the Newmarket and District Chamber of Commerce branch, said: 'We are clear from the work we have already done with our members that the site – if it is to be redeveloped – must be a mixed-use development and not just for housing.'

Forest Heath confirmed last week that the potential for housing on the site will not feature in their local plan for 2031. They cited the lack of certainty and detail from the MoD, and the potential for contamination of the land.

The vision for RAF Mildenhall is based around an independent report from development and planning advisers Cushman and Wakefield, which concluded that the future use of the site should incorporate a mix of aviation, employment land and new housing.

The independent assessment also suggests that the delivery of a new passenger or cargo airport on the site would not be feasible. The report identifies 200 acres of land should be protected for commercial aviation use.

Despite the announcement, Dr Richard Greenfield, chairman of Mildenhall Parish Council, said there were too many questions and not enough answers.

'It is all speculation at the moment,' he said. 'There is no absolute certainty of the USAF leaving, with the way things are with the presidential election at the moment.

'But if the base closes as they say it will, there will be at least a short term effect.

'Personally I am not sure that I am at all optimistic that there will be a holistic plan in place. Every closing RAF or USAF base in the country has been mothballed, if you look at Bentwaters [near Woodbridge] it is still just a basically empty site. My fear is that the same will happen in Mildenhall.'