Suffolk ex-councillor: why not use RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk instead of Heathrow?
An ex-councillor from Suffolk, Judy Terry, writing in Conservative Home, puts forward the idea of using the redundant RAF base at Mildenhall, in Suffolk as a new airport. It is a charmingly bonkers idea – but logically no more bonkers than adding a runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. Judy is aware of the negative impacts a new Heathrow runway would have on surrounding residents, and is unconvinced that greatly increasing Heathrow air freight is a great plan, due to road congestion and diesel pollution. She says deferring the decision on a runway makes sense, as “a lot has changed since Howard Davies started his airport review three years ago, and we don’t understand why other options were dismissed.” So, a “new solution” could be putting soon-to-be-redundant airfields in the regions to use as airports. “In the last year, the USAF announced that it will be leaving the RAF’s wartime bomber base in Mildenhall, Suffolk, by 2022.” This will cause job losses and negative impacts on the local economy, so Judy believes Mildenhall should be considered “if only the Heathrow expansion advocates would open their minds to a viable alternative.” “With the support of the local MP, Matt Hancock, the local council has just received a £230,000 grant to review the future, one option being an international airport, subject to the RAF’s future plans.”
Map shows location of Mildenhall, and East Midlands airport (red marker)
Judy Terry: Don’t expand Heathrow – boost regional airports instead
Apart from the EU negotiations, latterly focus has been on Heathrow, and the decision to defer a decision for a further review– this time on the potential environmental impact of a third runway. This has been interpreted as ‘for political reasons’ by the sceptics, citing the forthcoming London Mayoral elections. Yet, for many of us, a deferral makes sense because a lot has changed since Howard Davies started his airport review three years ago, and we don’t understand why other options were dismissed.
Whilst Willie Walsh threatens to take British Airways’ business elsewhere, Boris Johnson has called for “bold, imaginative, new solutions” to the airport expansion dilemma.
Boris is not alone. Apart from those of us trying to get to business appointments, or for a weekend away who are regularly stuck in traffic jams on the M25, if Heathrow expansion goes ahead, residents across the region will have their lives blighted for generations. Not just during the complicated infrastructure works (costing billions and never likely to be delivered on time or on budget), but they will also have to put up with increased aircraft noise, not to mention the impact on their property prices.
It appears that passengers are not the priority after all; demand for another runway comes from the freight industry, which wants increased capacity. However, freight inevitably has to be transported around the country. So why does it have to be imported and exported via London? Where the roads are already clogged up and there are concerns about diesel fumes and the impact on health?
Presumably, the answer is that the capital is the largest market for some incoming goods; that there are existing warehouses local to Heathrow, even if the road/rail infrastructure is inferior, which must increase costs and time delays when moving goods. Or maybe the reluctance to think afresh is simply due to the more usual “we’ve always done it this way and we don’t want to change”.
So, a “new solution” could be putting soon-to-be-redundant airfields in the regions to a new use. In the past, decommissioned airfields have become housing or industrial estates, often stunting wider economic growth (Ipswich is an example) and losing the opportunity for inward investment to create a high paid/ambitious jobs culture. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people say, if only we hadn’t allowed that to happen!
However, all is not lost. In the last year, the USAF announced that it will be leaving the RAF’s wartime bomber base in Mildenhall, Suffolk, by 2022.
Employing 4,200 airmen and civilians, losing the base will have a disastrous impact on the local economy which offers limited alternative employment in this historic market town which was part of the post-War London overspill programme. On the edge of the Fens, just 10 miles from Newmarket and close to the A11,with easy access to Cambridge, it has two particular claims to fame: a 15th century market cross, and the ‘Mildenhall Treasure’, a 4th century hoard of Roman silver, now in the British Museum. Despite its advantages, the town has never lived up to expectations, but the time is right for it to make real progress if only the Heathrow expansion advocates would open their minds to a viable alternative.
With the support of the local MP, Matt Hancock, the local council has just received a £230,000 grant to review the future, one option being an international airport, subject to the RAF’s future plans.
Residents are used to heavy aircraft, and consequently unlikely to resist commercial expansion.
Given the location, it would be convenient for racehorses to be flown around the world, and there would be major advantages for the freight industry in having easier access across the country and to Felixstowe port (for any onward transmission to the continent and across the globe). There is plenty of space to create new, efficient warehousing, and salaries are lower than in the London area; housing is also cheaper.
For the government, costs would also be lower and it would be easier and quicker to deliver the additional capacity. Local road and rail improvements connecting the Eastern region to the Midlands and North (as well as London) are long overdue in any event, so there would be a dual benefit from the investment. Funds could also be made available for grants or loans to support the freight industry to review their business models and develop the new warehousing/transport hubs. In return, the local council would have increased business rates and the Treasury would benefit from higher tax income as more jobs were created, and the benefits budget declined.
Such development would also boost further private investment in a region already renowned for its world class scientific and technical research, especially in the agricultural and medical sectors, with innovations which would benefit not just the UK economy, but help emerging economies and poor countries desperate to improve healthcare and to feed their populations.
Unlike its neighbours in Essex and Norfolk, Suffolk doesn’t have a commercial airport, which has had a seriously detrimental impact on its growth. Mildenhall could change that, and improve so many lives.
Some comments under the article:
January 01 2016, 4:42PM
Clearly the closure of Mildenhall will be a big blow to the local economy and not least in falling local and surrounding property prices. With US central air command moved to Mannheim, Germany its also questionable for how long Lakenheath too remains operational. An over dependency on the *US has no doubt been too long taken for granted, however although early days it appears unfortunate that the Cllr. presently seems intent in trying to raise false hopes by clutching at (fanciful) straws. In that regard perhaps he might do better than enquire if Marshalls here in Cambridge are silently waiting in the long grass!
January 01 2016, 2:47PM
Bonkers idea, Suffolk just doesn’t have the population to justify an International Airport, look at Cambridge that has just decided to stop offering passenger flights. It mentions that it would be far better to fly cargo from Mildenhall rather than Heathrow, the reality is that there are few if any purely cargo flights into Heathrow, the cargo travels in the aircraft hold alongside our suitcases. Cargo aircraft use Stansted instead. All shows that you don’t have to be very bright to be a Cllr, but the ability to talk ******** is advantageous.
January 01 2016, 12:17PM
A very good idea. Of course, infrastructure improvements would need to take place, especially railway expansion. but runways are already there, and the buildings on the base could be put to good use for an airport. I am glad that USAF Mildenhall will close, World War 2 has been over for over 70 years and the Soviet Union has been gone for 25 years.