Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) challenges planning rights of development at RAF Lakenheath linked to return of US nuclear weapons
Campaigners are legally challenging development works at RAF Lakenheath that it believes are preparations for the return of US nuclear weapons to British soil.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) says the controversial plans should be subject to proper public scrutiny, through the planning process, and is calling for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to halt the works at the base, home to the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) 48th Fighter Wing.
There is speculation that the base could host the first US nuclear weapons in 15 years after a US Air Force’s budgetary justification report said plans had been lodged to build a new 144-bedroom ‘surety dormitary’ at RAF Lakenheath, which forms part of a $50m (£39m) project.
’Surety’ is said to be a term commonly used within the Department of Defense and Department of Energy to refer to the capability to keep nuclear weapons safe, secure, and under positive control.
The CND has sent letters to the MoD and West Suffolk Council, which is the local planning authority, claiming the development does not have permitted development rights, and has called on the MoD to halt works while the necessary environmental screening is carried out.
The campaign group says the work could go ahead without an environmental impact assessment if it was being carried out by or on behalf of the Crown but believes this does not apply since the building works are being done by and for the USAF.
In a statement to SuffolkNews, the MoD said: “The planned accommodation block falls under existing permitted development rights and work is underway to support an Environmental Impact Assessment screening.”
A spokesman for West Suffolk Council said they had received a letter from CND and were considering their response.
The CND claims there has been no screening of the dormitory plan by West Suffolk Council to show it would have no significant environmental impact and without that screening it cannot have permitted development rights.
In its legal letter to the MoD, the CND says the development works for the dormitory should not be considered as one of several small projects but as part of one whole project with a major environmental impact that should be assessed as a whole.
It says any assessment must include not only the construction of the buildings comprising the various developments, but also the effects of the use of those buildings - that is the effects of stationing nuclear weapons at RAF Lakenheath.
Kate Hudson, of CND, said: “USAF has ploughed ahead with construction at the airbase by purportedly relying on planning rights that assume that the development won’t have significant environmental effects. But in doing that they’ve completely ignored the risks that stationing nuclear weapons would entail and therefore might arguably be operating unlawfully in breach of planning control.”
CND is represented by planning law specialist, solicitor Ricardo Gama at law firm Leigh Day.
Ricardo Gama said: “CND wants to make sure that the development at RAF Lakenheath, and the wider question of whether nuclear weapons should be stationed on UK soil, if that is what the USAF is planning, doesn’t slip under the radar without proper public scrutiny.
“The planning process is one way for members of the public to make representations on these controversial plans.”
Work on the dormitory is due to start next year and is reportedly to house the extra US personnel needed as part of the ‘potential surety mission’.
The USAF was approached for comment, but deferred to the MoD.