Shock as RAF base to close

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Businesses in Mildenhall have offered mixed reactions to the announcement that RAF Mildenhall is to close.

On Thursday, US defence secretary Chuck Hagel revealed that the air base, which is home to 3,200 military personnel, is to shut as part of a sweeping reorganisation of the US air force’s presence in Europe,

One area that is directly affected by the Pentagon’s decision, which will also see two new F-35 squadrons based at neighbouring RAF Lakenheath by 2020, is the housing rental market.

“We are very upset to think that RAF Mildenhall is going to close and we have got concerns as it has been there a long time,” said Angela Lynch, office manager at Beatrice Carter Property.

“It will be a bit quieter and hopefully it will not have a drastic effect. We are remaining upbeat though as we deal with the two other RAF sites at Lakenheath and Feltwell. We have a very pro-active team and are looking forward to working with the two new squadrons.”

While the prospect of two new squadrons being housed at Lakenheath is seen as positive news by those at Beatrice Carter Property, for Paul Webb, owner of Market Place shop Webbs Sandwich Bar, he feels that it will not have quite the same impact.

“We reckon between 30 and 40 per cent of our trade comes from those at Mildenhall air base,” said Mr Webb.

“The other restaurants and businesses in the town will be okay, but because we are only open in the morning, we don’t tend to see many come over from Lakenheath as it is a bit too far away to come over for lunch.

“We are not going to be negative about it and we will still be here as we have been for the past 11 years. It could be that something even better comes in its place.”

Although it remains to be seen just what effect the closure of the base will have on the town, James Waters, leader of Forest Heath District Council, has promised to work with businesses to minimise any impact.

“While we are all saddened by the closure announcement, we all need to work together to ensure Mildenhall and the surrounding area emerges stronger from this,” said Cllr Waters.

“We want to hear from businesses as to how they will be affected, and what can be done to mitigate that impact.

“We want to hear from our residents as to how they view this opportunity and what they would like to see happen with the land at RAF Mildenhall.

“It is vital that we involve our communities in achieving the best possible outcome for themselves.”