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RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Before 2008, the U.S. Air Force hopes to have an additional 590 off-base homes near RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath in which to house military families.

The go-ahead to seek proposals to build the houses was given recently by the Forest Heath District Council, which administers the area around the two bases. The bases, just four miles apart, are home to 10,000 active-duty members. The 48th Fighter Wing is at RAF Lakenheath and the 100th Air Refueling Wing makes its home at RAF Mildenhall.

“Our need now represents 590 over and above what’s already here,” said Bart Bloemhard, housing director.

The Air Force wants two-, three- and four-bedroom houses, which will make up for a shortage that was noted in the latest Air Force Housing Requirements Market Analysis. The Air Force will lease the houses, not own them.

“We’re going to build houses that are in close proximity to both bases,” said Bloemhard.

Lt. Col. Joseph Ward, deputy commander of the 48th Mission Support Group, said 95 percent of the houses now used by Air Force families are within a 30-minute drive to the bases. The need, however, is for better housing, in some cases, and to bring the remaining 5 percent closer to work if possible.

“Distance is one of the factors that goes into this,” he said.

The Air Force and the Forest Heath District Council will consider the proposals and work together regarding where houses will be built and how many.

“The issue of where that 590 can be provided is a debate that will be ongoing,” said Nigel McCurdy, head of planning for the council. “The other debate is, in what way does existing housing market contribute to that 590? Just because you need 590, that doesn’t mean they all have to be new-built.”

The idea is not being met with open arms by local residents, who say the addition of so many houses in an area of farms and small towns can have a negative impact.

“People don’t mind houses, as such,” said Tony Morrow, who runs a newspaper and magazine shop in Beck Row, home of RAF Mildenhall. “What they don’t want are American ghettos.”

There is already a plan to build 150 houses in Beck Row and that has raised the ire of some in the village.

“This will change the face of Beck Row forever,” said Grenville Dale, chairman of the Beck Row Community Association.

He also mentioned the possibility of an American housing area being “a large target for anyone who wishes to do bad.”

Both Morrow and Dale said the issue is not one of anti-Americanism. Dale said Americans have been an important part of the community. Morrow said the argument is with the local council members who didn’t consider the wishes of their constituents.

Plus, Morrow said, the local area endures more with blocked roads and heavy traffic than most American communities would tolerate.

Dale said there is a concern among landlords that they might lose their American tenants.

“If I was a landlord, I wouldn’t want to invest,” he said.

An issue worrying to locals, too, is the possibility that Americans someday might pull out of England and leave behind hundreds of empty houses.

An invasion of English residents would overtax the school system and local infrastructure.

The Air Force has tried to calm that concern.

“We don’t see a drop with the collective population of Lakenheath and Mildenhall,” Ward said. “We’re going to stay at 10,000 [active-duty] for the foreseeable future.”

McCurdy said the American command has assured the council that there is to be no pull-out from the two bases.

Ward and Bloemhard said they hope to start turning dirt on the first construction early in 2005. They won’t talk about how much money is set aside to lease the homes so as not to tip the service’s hand to bidders.

They both said the Air Force would work closely with the local planners and council as proposals arrive to ensure both sides are happy.

McCurdy said he would be interested in the design of the houses, their location and how they will fit in with existing housing.

“The military and planning authority are going to work together,” he said.

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