Page last updated at 19:06 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

MP attacks RAF base closure plan

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The nearby community has fears over the effect of the closure

Plans to close RAF Cottesmore in Rutland to pay for new helicopters for use in Afghanistan have been attacked by the local MP.

Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton Alan Duncan said he would oppose the government plan to close the base to help raise cash for 22 new Chinooks.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth announced the closure to the House of Commons along with other cutbacks.

The base has about 3,500 staff and is the county's largest employer.

The Harrier jets based at RAF Cottesmore will move to RAF Wittering, in Cambridgeshire, before being phased out of service altogether, earlier than the previously planned withdrawal date of 2018.

The people of Rutland have an economic as well as emotional attachment to the base, and I will fight to keep it open
Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton

Mr Duncan said: "The base still has strategic value and I oppose any plans for its closure in the strongest possible terms.

"It is as a result of a catastrophic failure of planning on the government's part.

"RAF Cottesmore is being sacrificed to fund the war in Afghanistan because the Treasury are simply not funding current operations, contrary to what the prime minister said yesterday.

"The government needs to get a grip on the situation so that the Royal Air Force, and the nation's long-term security, is not harmed by short-sighted base closures.

Community 'shocked'

"The people of Rutland have an economic as well as emotional attachment to the base, and I will fight to keep it open."

The leader of Rutland County Council, Roger Beggy, said: "It involves a significant part of our community. It provides employment, it provides spending in our local towns.

"And the RAF has a tremendous heritage in Rutland over the years - this will come as a major blow."

Caroline Hodges is chairman of the Oakham board of trade.

"I think it is a bit of a shock," she said. "It has been mentioned on several occasions that Cottesmore might go but we were assured that it wouldn't.

"Then we hear today that this is the one place the axe is going to fall, is rather a shame especially for the surrounding area."

The measures reflect our stated priority of support for the Afghan campaign
Bob Ainsworth

The defence secretary's announcement comes after months of criticism over the number of helicopters in operation in Helmand, Afghanistan.

In total, the Chinook fleet will increase in size from 48 to 70.

But the money will have to come out of the Ministry of Defence's existing budget, which is already overspent.

Mr Ainsworth said: "Helicopter capability has already doubled in the last three years and this future strategy builds on this, ensuring that our armed forces have the very best resources at their disposal."

RAF Cottesmore opened in 1938 and during the 1960s was the base for nuclear capable Vulcan bombers.

It has been home to Harriers since 1999 and these have recently served in Afghanistan.

The planes were developed in the early 1960s and had been due leave service in 2018 but this is now likely to be brought forward.



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