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MILDENHALL, England — Dave Hitchman’s property overlooks the tract of land that a British developer hopes to convert into a sprawling housing development for more than 400 American families.

The problem, he says, is that he was unaware of the project until a community group sent a letter to his home, alerting him to the development and inviting him to an opposition meeting.

“If I didn’t know about it, how did anybody know about it?” he asked.

When he arrived at the Jubilee Centre in downtown Mildenhall on Tuesday night for the informal meeting, Hitchman quickly discovered his worries were not unique.

At least 300 people jammed into the community center for what amounted to a lengthy complaint session. The meeting was organized by the group Save Western Mildenhall in an effort to quash the development plans.

The protesters’ concerns surround a plan by the Ashwell Group, a Cambridge-based housing development firm, to build nearly 600 homes on the road that runs between the villages of West Row and Mildenhall. The road also is adjacent to RAF Mildenhall. About 150 of the homes would be constructed for British nationals.

The U.S. Air Force asserts the development is critical to bringing its personnel closer to the three bases: RAF Mildenhall, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Feltwell. Bart L. Bloemhard, East Anglian Regional Housing Director, said that 2,000 families currently live more than 20 minutes from the bases and that some live up to an hour away.

The plan originates from a housing analysis completed in 2003 that determined a shortfall of approximately 600 homes near the bases, said Bloemhard, a U.S. civilian who heads the Air Force’s housing office.

Many of the people at Tuesday’s public forum openly debated that number, citing scores of newspaper listings for homes in Lakenheath, Mildenhall and other nearby communities. But by the end of the meeting, the people opposed to the development agreed the need for increased housing is real and their ultimate problem is with the project’s location.

“I think most people understand they need more housing if they are going to stay here,” said Ken Thompson, who serves on the British-American Committee and has access to base leaders.

No Air Force officials spoke at the meeting.

Scores of people rallied against the increased traffic the development would cause. Others lashed out at the proximity to a British middle school.

Odette Fussey, who helped organize the Save Western Mildenhall group, gave a passionate speech to open the meeting. “I think it’s very, very dangerous,” Fussey said. “I think you need to think about your children’s future.”

After more than an hour of complaints, a representative from the Ashwell Group spoke to the group. Simon Butler-Finbow, Ashwell Group planning director, promised a transparent process that would take the group’s concerns into account.

He also attempted to temper fears raised by many at the meeting who saw surveyors on the land slated for development.

“It’s not a matter of getting ahead of the process,” he said. “It’s just doing our homework.”

Meetings will continue later this week when the Ashwell Group returns to the Jubilee Center on Friday to unveil its development plan.


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