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RAF Odiham base future secured
DELIGHTED staff at RAF Odiham are looking forward to a more secure future after defence bosses decided it should stay open.
The north Hampshire base, which is home to the UK’s entire force of RAF Chinook helicopters, has been under threat from a cost-cutting review for the last six years.
Ministry of Defence chiefs started up the cost-cutting plan called Project Belvedere to see if it was worth moving all the RAF’s different helicopters to a single “superbase” at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.
But on Thursday, Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth announced that Belvedere would be too expensive to implement.
He explained: “We have therefore decided that to continue Project Belvedere does not represent best value for money for the department, and it is closed with immediate effect.”
RAF Odiham station commander Group Captain Andy Turner said: “I am really delighted. Morale has definitely improved since the decision. The sense of that worry lifting from above our heads is a huge relief.
“This means the decision is objective and will last. What we did not want was to push through a rushed decision. We will now be here for the next 75 years.”
He added that the decision means RAF Odiham can plan for improvements, such as renovating the base’s accommodation and infrastructure, some of which dates back to the 1930s when it opened.
Grp Capt Turner told The Gazette that the news of Odiham’s reprieve marked the end of a long wait for the 2,000 people who work at the RAF base.
He said: “Just walking around the homes at the base, you could see most people would have their plants in the pots because nobody saw the value of putting them in the soil.
“Our people can now buy houses in the area and put roots down in the local community.”
The decision, announced in a written statement to Parliament, means that RAF Odiham will remain the home to the 40 aircraft of Numbers 7, 18 and 27 Squadrons – the three Chinook helicopter squadrons.
About 1,200 people live on the base, including 400 Army personnel. At any time, 400 servicemen and women from RAF Odiham are serving overseas and, currently, A Flight of 18 Squadron is in the thick of the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Four other bases in the UK that were under review, including RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, will also remain open as a result of the decision.
However the possible “superbase” location of RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire is set to close by the end of 2012, once its fleet of Hercules aircraft has moved to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
North East Hampshire MP James Arbuthnot, chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, said: “I am glad that, at long last, the Ministry of Defence has made the right decision and realised that the Chinook fleet at RAF Odiham should stay where it is.
“This is a victory for common sense and allows the much valued, outstanding and highly professional Chinook fleet to stay where they belong.”
Mr Arbuthnot criticised the Govern-ment for the time taken to reach the decision, saying he regretted “the real anxiety” the delay had caused.
But Grp Capt Turner, who worked with the MoD on Project Belvedere, said: “I think I deeply value the amount of time taken because this is the first time that a deep and proper review has happened.”
Peter Fountain, Odiham town manager, said the decision is good news for the village of Odiham.
He added: “It would have been disastrous for Odiham had the base and its personnel gone. Many of the people there work with the community and the relationship is second to none.”
Last summer, the village hosted a parade for RAF Odiham personnel to mark their bravery in Afghanistan. A similar parade will take place on June 13.