UK Politics

Minister accused of reneging on military airfield promise

Colerne airfield, Wiltshire Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Colerne airfield, in Wiltshire, is among those earmarked for closure

A defence minister has been accused of going back on a commitment to keep 15 military airfields that are earmarked for closure in use for civil aviation.

The airfields are due to be sold off, mostly for housing, over the next six years as part of MoD cost-cutting.

MPs and peers on the all-party general aviation group say they are an important national asset.

They say that Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood had agreed to "look again" at the aerodrome sell-offs.

But all-party group chairman, Conservative MP Grant Shapps, said there were "significant disparities" between what Mr Ellwood had said and his subsequent follow-up letter to the group.

'Very concerned'

"Our meeting with the defence minister was very worthwhile and extracted some helpful commitments, including supporting continued aviation use at the 15 military aerodromes being disposed of, where possible," said Mr Shapps.

He said the group's members were "very concerned to see no mention of these commitments in the minister's follow-up letter".

"As we celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, which has inspired generations of young people into pursuing high-tech jobs in aviation, we have written back to the minister to ask specifically what the Ministry of Defence is doing to support general aviation.

"We look forward to the minister's reply."

The MPs and peers argue that the 15 airfields should be kept in use for private planes, gliders and flight training - known as general aviation - and to be kept in reserve for military use, in the event of a national emergency.

'No security risk'

In his written response, Mr Ellwood appeared to rule out the future use of the threatened airfields by other aircraft.

He said he "recognised the strength of feeling" among the 157 members of the all-party aviation group.

But he said private planes could still access 20 other military airfields in the UK and the closure of aerodromes used for pilot training was part of a plan to increase training capacity by concentrating it at fewer sites.

He also rejected arguments that closing the airfields posed a security risk.

"I must assure you that the MoD does undertake the necessary investigative work to ensure that the safety and security of service personnel and UK citizens is not compromised," said the minister.

The MoD said the sites were "surplus to military requirements" and as no bids have been received to turn them into civilian airfields they would be used to meet the "needs of the local community".

A spokesperson said: "Some of the airfields have not been active for decades, years if not decades, and are not fit for aircraft to land.

"All proceeds from the sale of the sites will be reinvested back into defence."

The airfields earmarked for closure are:

  • Abingdon, Oxfordshire
  • Alconbury, Cambridgeshire
  • Arbroath, Angus
  • Brawdy, Pembrokeshire
  • Chivenor, Devon
  • Colerne, Wiltshire
  • Dishforth, North Yorkshire
  • Halton, Buckinghamshire
  • Henlow, Bedfordshire
  • Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • Molesworth, Cambridgeshire
  • North Luffenham, Rutland
  • Wethersfield, Essex
  • Woodbridge, Suffolk
  • Wyton, Cambridgeshire

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