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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
RAF Lyneham to close
Lyneham
The RAF base could now be handed to the army
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed that RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire is to close by 2012, with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Of the 2,500 jobs on the base, 580 will be lost, says the MoD, with the remainder redeployed to other sites.

The closure comes as part of a strategic review of airbases for the RAF's air transport and refuelling fleets, which also involved RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall.

More than 1,700 service and 360 MoD civilian posts are to be cut after the review, including the 580 from Lyneham.

That was misleading Parliament and misleading the nation and a disgrace
James Gray MP

Defence minister Adam Ingram added that the base will remain open until the RAF's Hercules C130K heavy lift fleet goes out of service, but will then close and be sold off unless a new use has been found for it.

The base is home to 50 of the Hercules transport aircraft which will move with their crews to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire, described the decision to close Lyneham as "devastating", and accused Tony Blair of lying.

The Prime Minister visited the base during the recent Iraq conflict, and said in May: "I accept and understand the very important role that it has played in previous conflicts and, I have no doubt at all, will play in future conflicts, too."

Mr Gray told BBC Radio Wiltshire "...that was a straightforward and downright lie".

He added that he believed Mr Blair "knew perfectly well" what was going to happen to the base when he visited in April.

"That was misleading Parliament and misleading the nation and a disgrace."

"RAF Lyneham played a central role in the Gulf conflict and in every war fought during the last 50 years.

Hercules transport plane
Tony Blair visited the base during the war in Iraq

"I pay tribute to the airmen and airwomen without whom the defence of the realm would not have been possible and call on the Prime Minister even at this late date to stand by his commitment to them," he added.

Defence minister Adam Ingram told the BBC: "I would ask Mr Gray to withdraw this charge.

"A decision had not been taken about the base [in May] and what the Prime Minister said is true: if there is a conflict over the next 10 years, Lyneham will be available for use."

In a letter, he added: "I understand that this will be disappointing news for the dedicated military and civilian personnel at Lyneham who have contributed so much to recent operations.

"I am sure that you will understand that we must make the best possible use of defence resources

Housing development

"We would be failing in that duty if we were to retain an RAF presence at Lyneham when it is not necessary, and we remain committed to retaining no more than the defence estate that is strictly needed," he added.

The airbase review, announced in November 2001, was prompted by the anticipated arrival at the end of this decade of the new Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft and A400M tactical transport aircraft, both of which will be based at RAF Brize Norton.

If Lyneham were sold for agricultural use, it has previously been estimated to be worth 11.25m.

It could also be used to host government departments or the army, or as an industrial site or housing development.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Adams
"The RAF describes this as rationalisation"



SEE ALSO:
Worries for future of RAF base
28 Jun 03  |  Wiltshire
New hope for threatened RAF base
08 May 03  |  Wiltshire
Air base closure fear 'ignored'
19 Jun 02  |  England
Campaigners condemn 'stupid' plan
18 Jan 02  |  England


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