The Ministry of Defence has been urged to make a swift decision over the future of RAF Mildenhall - as new figures reveal the base contributes up to £700 million a year to the local economy.
Marking a year since the shock announcement the airbase would close by 2022, the leaders of Forest Heath District and St Edmundsbury Borough Councils want a commitment the site will not be ‘mothballed’ when the USAF leave.
They say the sooner the MOD decide what to do with the base, the sooner they can pursue a potential business case to continue to reap the economic benefits it brings to the area.
Research by both councils as well as other authorities and organisations in the area indicate that RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath could be worth as much as £700 million a year to the West Suffolk, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire economies.
Cllr James Waters, leader of Forest Heath District Council, said: “We’re pushing the MOD to make a decision regarding any future military use for all or part of the RAF Mildenhall site.
“The council’s position is very clear, we want a commitment the site will not be mothballed when the USAF leave - the potential damage of doing so is clear for all to see.
“We would like a clear decision - yes they want it, no they don’t or they want part of it - so we can get started on a business case and engage with communities to deliver something beneficial for West Suffolk and beyond.”
Cllr John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, added: “We’re equally keen to see a swift response so we can all plan as to how to make the best of the situation for the people of West Suffolk.”
Forest Heath has been working with St Edmundsbury Borough, Suffolk County, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire District Councils as well as the Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnerships to understand the impacts of both bases.
The £700 million figure is after direct employment on-base and indirect employment associated with spending on and off-base is taken into account.
RAF Lakenheath is due to expand in 2021 with the arrival of about 1,600 extra personnel alongside F-35A jets. It was announced in November to relocate 350 personnel from 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons from Lakenheath to Italy.
An MOD spokesman said they are conducting assessments to determine the potential use of Mildenhall as well as RAF Alconbury and Molesworth, where the USAF is also withdrawing.
He said: “Any decisions on the future of the sites will be made as part of our overall review of the Defence estate, an announcement on which is planned for later this year. MOD will continue to work with the relevant councils to ensure any decision takes into account local strategic planning issues.”