It is being reported that up to fifteen MOD-owned airfields are being considered for closure in a programme of savings planned over some five or six years. This has raised concerns about future defence capabilities, with an all-party group of MPs stating that they are a “vital national asset” and should not be lost. They have written to the Defence Secretary asking him to re-consider the closures and to retain the ability to use them for defence operations should the need arise.
“At a time when the UK and our allies are facing significant global threats and uncertainties,” said Mr Shapps, MPs were “deeply concerned” to see the Ministry of Defence selling off this sort of military infrastructure.
The airfields earmarked for closure are:
Dishforth, North Yorkshire
North Luffenham, Rutland
Shown above is Colerne Airfield, home to 992 (Malmesbury) Squadron Royal Air Force cadets. Malmesbury (992) Squadron has a dedicated team of Commissioned Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Civilian instructors who hold qualifications in many different areas, allowing them to run all kinds of activities – from adventure training and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, to live rifle firing, clay target shooting, radio training, fieldcraft, first aid, and foot drill. They are funded by the RAF and MOD to enable them to offer flying and gliding, which includes solo & pilot development schemes, week ‘camps’ to active RAF Stations in tthe UK and overseas. They are an example of the sort of thriving organisation that would be greatly affected by the planned closures.
Today, many of the airfields are used by private pilots and commercial training companies. Conservative MP Grant Shapps, the group’s chairman, said general aviation was worth £3bn a year to the UK economy according to Government figures. He added that he understood that many companies were starting to move their operations overseas due to the lack of suitable airfields in the UK and that there was little prospect of replacing the MOD sites with new commercial fields due to planning issues.
Under the current plans most of the sites will be sold for housing development as part of the Government’s wider plan to address the housing shortage in the UK. Mr Schapps is a former housing minister – with a PPL, and he has made it clear that he appreciates the need to build more homes.
In what appears to be a thin attempt to put a favourable gloss on the situation, a defence spokesman has referred to a tranche of some £300m due to be spent on RAF sites in the UK. However, it is clear that, in spite of offers to meet the group of MPs for discussions, the plans are going to be largely implemented. As the spokesman commented:
“Where airfields are no longer required, we will work closely with potential buyers and the local council to make sure that the sites’ future use best meets the needs of the local economy, including providing thousands of much-needed new housing or their potential for use as civilian airfields.”