THE FUTURE of RAF Lyneham has been given a glimmer of hope after it was revealed the base is being considered as a helicopter superbase.

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram disclosed the possibility of the station being used under Project Belvedere, a joint helicopter command study.

North Wiltshire MP James Gray has cautiously welcomed the news.

He said guesswork led him to believe it would be similar to the numbers currently at RAF Lyneham around 3,500 military personnel.

"Nothing's been talked about in official terms, but it would be a substantial amount of people to fill the accommodation," he said.

Mr Gray said bringing all the choppers together would make economic sense and would make RAF Lyneham the Army's main helicopter base.

"There would be lots of investment in Lyneham and the whole base would be regenerated," he said. "We must welcome this news. It's estimated that 10,000 people in North Wiltshire owe their livelihood to RAF Lyneham, that's every 10th person you speak to."

Mr Gray said the main downside would be noise from the helicopters, but he had spoken to his colleague, the MP for Odiham, who had relatively few complaints.

"Hercs are noisy too, and we've got used to that," he said. " This is what we've been campaigning for, so the people power must have made a difference."

Mr Gray said the time for heavy-handed campaigning was over, and he now planned to "gently push" the MoD in the right direction.

"This has come at the right time, particularly after the job losses at Dyson, St Ivel and Hygrade. My job is to work with the MoD to keep an eye on what is happening and ensure whatever happens suits our local interests."

Mr Gray was also encouraged by an indication that, even if a joint helicopter superbase was not a reality, other defence uses would be sought.

Villager Andy Humm, a civilian at RAF Lyneham who was set to lose his job when the base closed, said it was positive news for everyone involved.

"It could be great for Lyneham," he said.

"But we'll hold off the celebrations until it's been 100 per cent confirmed."

The remark by Mr Ingram is the biggest hint yet that RAF Lyneham could still be used as a military base after 2012, when the Hercules fleet will be relocated to Brize Norton.

The plan would be to close RAF Benson, in rural Oxfordshire, and RAF Odiham, in Hampshire, and create one huge super-base.

It would mean Merlin, Chinook and Puma helicopters from the two bases relocating to RAF Lyneham when the Hercules fleet leaves in six years time.

Chinooks are cargo carrying choppers, while the others undertake ordinary military activities. All would fly in and out of Lyneham, rather than be transported on other aircraft.

There has been no indication exactly how many helicopters or personnel would be involved in the move, although there are 2,000 employees and three squadrons at RAF Odiham alone.

Time line

  • 2001: MoD announced it was reviewing the role of RAF Lyneham
  • 2002: 16,000 hopefuls sign a petition to save the base
  • 2003: The death knell is finally sounded when the Government announced all Hercules would leave the base by 2012
  • 2004: 130 job losses announced at Lyneham as part of a package of uniformed cuts across the RAF
  • 2005: Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram revealed a further 230 jobs at RAF Lyneham would be slashed over the next three years
  • 2006: Plans mooted for Lyneham to be used as a helicopter super-base after 2012
  • 2012: Final Hercules will move out of RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, along with 2,500 military personnel.