Cloud over future of three Yorkshire air bases

Defence cuts will have a "significant impact" on the need for military bases in the UK, it was confirmed yesterday.

Three RAF bases will be axed as a result of the reduction in the Tornado fleet and the withdrawal of Harriers, the Strategic Defence and Security Review said.

RAF Kinloss in Moray, Scotland, is the only air force base deemed surplus to requirements to be named in the report. It loses out because of the cancellation of the order for Nimrod surveillance aircraft.

But the announcement means a cloud hangs over the future of air bases in Yorkshire, with RAF Linton-on-Ouse, RAF Leeming and RAF Leconfield all at risk.

Only last year, Linton and Leeming staved off the prospect of closure when the MoD was looking to make cuts. In December Bob Ainsworth, then Defence Secretary, decided to find the 900m needed by closing RAF Cottesmore, in Rutland.

But both, as well as RAF Leconfield, could now come under renewed threat.

Derrick Jauncey, chairman of governors at Linton-on-Ouse primary school, said any downsize in operations there would have a major effect on the local community.

He said: "It would have a huge impact on our school, where more than 50 per cent of the children are here as a result of the Army or the air force."

Mr Jauncey said the base needed a huge workforce to continue functioning and put 10m into the local economy through wages and spending.

There are indications that the base in Linton-on-Ouse could be safe, however, with high-level sources suggesting it had secured another five-year tenure.

Anne McIntosh, Tory MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey welcomed the review's announcement that Typhoon fighters were to be kept, saying that training at RAF Linton-on-Ouse would be needed as a result.

Mr Jauncey added: "We are the number one training school for the RAF."

Although now used by the MoD Defence School of Transport, the future of RAF Leconfield near Beverley is also in doubt.

Leconfield Parish Clerk, Mike Collinson, said: "Closure would be damaging but not disastrous. It would not have as much of an impact as at some of the bases in Lincolnshire.

"It would be different, though, that's for sure. I'm 61 and it's been a base ever since I can remember.

"It's a training camp now, we feel it's safe at the moment. The base teaches people to drive who haven't got a licence, all the way up to heavy-duty vehicles.

Further hope has also been raised with the possibility RAF bases may be needed to house some of the 20,000 Army personnel being brought back from Germany.

Final decisions would be made "on the basis of detailed and wide-ranging assessment" but would be announced "as quickly as possible to minimise uncertainty, and to be sensitive to economic, social and family pressures", the review said.

People living close to RAF Kinloss said its closure would

be "catastrophic" for the community.

Elaine Gittings, who has run a nearby filling station for more than 10 years, said: "The Government are going to have to pay for all these people who are out of work. The bill is going to be horrendous."

Kirsty Walling, 36, who works at the station said: "It's catastrophic. It's a snowball effect. If that (RAF Kinloss) closes, everything closes."

A study on the impact of RAF Kinloss found that, along with RAF Lossiemouth, it put 158m into the local economy and supports 5,710 full-time jobs.

Businesses in shadow of axe

Residents living and working near Europe's largest garrison spoke of their fears as the cuts were announced.

Many businesses in and around Catterick said they relied on the soldiers and their families for trade.

The North Yorkshire garrison has a total civilian and military population of around 20,000, with a thriving business community.

Bev Partridge, the mayor of nearby Colburn and owner of Colburn Fisheries, said: "We rely here on the soldiers, the wives and families.

"The children go to school here and the wives get jobs around here so it affects our business in many ways really."

Local optician Simon Riddell said 50 to 60 per cent of his trade was from soldiers and their families.