The Ministry of Defence has announced plans to sell RAF Mildenhall along with 11 other military sites it no longer needs.
The others include RAF Barnham, near Thetford, and RAF Alconbury and Molesworth in Cambridgeshire.
Defence Minister Mark Lancaster announced the release of the 12 sites this afternoon as part of the department’s ‘drive for greater efficiency’.
The MoD says their sale will generate £500 million and provide the land for around 15,000 new homes.
The income generated from the sales will be ploughed back into defence, in line with an announcement in the summer that all MoD savings would be reinvested into a defence budget that will rise every year of this parliament.
These sites will form the first tranche of the MoD’s plan to reduce the size of its ‘built estate’ by 30 per cent. That estate is currently one per cent of all UK land, at 452,000 hectares.
Mark Lancaster said: “By streamlining the Defence estate, we will ensure that it better meets the needs of the Armed Forces well into the future. Defence has the strongest incentive to become more efficient; with every pound we make by disposing of excess land reinvested into a defence budget that keeps Britain safe.
“We are also making an important contribution of 55,000 homes to the wider government housing targets. Every acre that we can free up will ensure that more people have the opportunity to own their own home.”
An MoD spokeswoman said only part of the 1,100 acre RAF Mildenhall was being released and they felt it had the potential for 4,000 houses.
She added: “Once the USAF no longer need it, we might be wanting to use part of it for something. It is a very big site.”
The 12 sites are:
RAF sites Mildenhall and Barnham in Suffolk and Molesworth and Alconbury in Cambridgeshire.
Kneller Hall in Twickenham
Claro and Deverell barracks in Ripon
Lodge Hill in Kent
Craigiehall in Edinburgh
HMS Nelson Wardroom in Portsmouth
Hullavington Airfield in Wiltshire
MoD Felton in London
The MoD says will announce further sites ‘in due course, with a full list published in the Footprint Strategy later in 2016’.
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock said: “Given the Americans had decided to leave, this early decision by the Government today on the future of RAF Mildenhall is very good news and I am pleased that there is a clear plan of action for the base.
“Of course, those affected and working on the base need to be supported through these changes and I will ensure this happens. I will also work continue to work very closely through the council and local constituents to make sure we make the best of this potential and secure Mildenhall’s future.”
Forest Heath District Council Leader James Waters welcomed the prompt decision but added: “The future use of the site has to be one that meets local needs – and that is not about simply selling off land for housing. We need to be replacing jobs with jobs and working with our communities to ensure a prosperous future.
“Whatever the future use for the airbase site may be, it will dramatically change the future not just of the Mildenhall area, but of West Suffolk and the wider sub region.”
Forest Heath District Council, together with St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Suffolk County Council, Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough LEP, New Anglia LEP and the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group were told just before Christmas that they had been successful with a £230,000 bid for funds from the Government’s One Public Estate Programme. The main part of this funding is allocated to creating a viable plan for the future use of the airbase after the USAF leaves in 2022.
Cllr Waters said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to use publicly-owned land to shape the future of Mildenhall and the surrounding area.
“There is already a very long list of ideas for the future of the site and I believe that we are best placed to lead the regeneration of the site by working in partnership with our MP, the Government property unit, the MoD, both LEPs and Suffolk County Council.”
Last week Forest Heath revealed that early work on an economic impact study, indicated that RAF Mildenhall, and RAF Lakenheath which is to expand, are collectively worth up to £700 million to the economies of West Suffolk, Breckland and East Cambridgeshire.
Cllr Waters said: “We will shortly be arranging and announcing a fresh set of engagement sessions where we can discuss ideas with members of our local communities.
“We are adamant that the big decisions over the future of this site need to be made here in the very communities that will be impacted by the closure and we can now look forward to taking this work forward.”
Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership said: “We have now got the certainty we asked for a year ago and it brings a secure way forward for us to work together in developing the site in terms of housing, jobs, infrastructure and facilities for the local community.
“It sends a strong message to all those people in and around our area, those learning in our schools and colleges and people who want to re-locate here, that the east is a strong developing economy and one, we already know, is outgrowing many areas in the Northern Powerhouse.”