RAF Henlow closure pushed back to 2023
- Credit: Archant
RAF Henlow’s closure date has been pushed back to 2023 after the Ministry of Defence updated plans for more than 30 sites across the country.
The base, which opened in 1918, was one of 13 sites to be sold off as part of a £1 billion savings programme – with its closure set for 2020 and 780 new homes to be built in its place.
But, while updating Parliament on plans for 33 military sites last Thursday, defence minister Tobias Ellwood confirmed that RAF Henlow will now be closing by 2023.
“We have decided that five sites will be part of a phase withdrawal and disposal,” he said.
“They are Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, Venning Barracks, RAF Henlow, Chilwell Station and RAF Halton.
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“These facilities will now close several years later than originally stated, and in some cases units staying in place throughout that period.”
Speaking to the Forces Network afterwards, Mr Ellwood explained why planned closures had changed, saying: “The challenges are, if you want to vacate a site, where are you going to move them to?
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“The place is not ready because we’ve not built it or there’s been a slow down in the build, or the other way round.
“We want to build, but the local plan, the local authority is yet to catch up with what we actually want to do.
“So you can see that there is a knock on, kind of domino affect of decision making.”
During his speech in the House of Commons, Mr Ellwood also confirmed that work is being done to help military personnel and their families after stations are closed.
“We will open up fresh opportunities for military families to find work, to lay down permanent roots and organise more stable schooling for their children,” he said.
RAF Henlow officially opened on May 8, 1918, just a month after the Royal Air Force was formed.
During the inter-war years, the station was used as the first parachute testing centre and housed the officers’ engineering school, while jet engine pioneer Sir Frank Whittle spend time at Henlow’s technical college.
After the Second World War began in 1939, the Bedfordshire base became one of the biggest RAF maintenance units and was used to assemble Hawker Hurricane fighters shipped to the UK from Canada.
RAF Henlow had a number of post-war uses, including as a base for signals engineering and a major RAF technical training college, while also being used as a filming location for 1969 film Battle of Britain.
Today, it houses restored aircraft from the RAF’s history in a hangar that dates back to 1917.