Menwith Hill: The impact of cutbacks

NADV 1403046AM1 Menwith Hill. (1403046AM1)
NADV 1403046AM1 Menwith Hill. (1403046AM1)

Special Report: A week after it was announced that 500 jobs are to go at Menwith Hill reporter Laura Hill finds out how the district will be affected.

Around 500 military and civilian jobs are to go at Menwith Hill as the US scales back its defence budget, the US European Command has announced

NADV 1403046AM2 Menwith Hill. (1403046AM2)

NADV 1403046AM2 Menwith Hill. (1403046AM2)

The 500 staff will leave Menwith Hill by October 2016 and the cutbacks will have a major impact in the Harrogate district where a high number of people are employed at the US military base.

A spokesperson for Menwith Hill confirmed that some British staff members based at Menwith Hill face redundancy.

Squadron Leader Geoff Dickson, RAF Commander at Menwith Hill, said: “It is too early in the process to quantify the full effect but there will be some level of reduction in UK Ministry of Defence positions at Menwith Hill. Any reduction in UK staffing will be fully considered with the Ministry of Defence, trade unions and relevant organisations, with normal attrition and reassignment wherever possible.”

Fears have been raised over the impact the job losses will have on the district’s economy, local schools and housing market.

County councillor for the Lower Nidderdale area, Michael Harrison, said the impact of the cutbacks would be felt far and wide.

“There’s been a lot of talk in recent months that a review was underway. But this is a real blow,” he said.

“They are reducing the number of employees, both military and civilian posts, up at Menwith Hill. It’s a reduction of numbers, rather than the closure of the base.

“The impact, as well as on those losing their jobs, will be felt in the local economy. There will be less people living and working in Lower Nidderdale.

“The contribution to the local economy because the base is substantial. That is going to be somewhat reduced.

“Will it impact local schools even? It’s too early to say. But it’s a loss of good quality jobs, putting a significant contribution into the local economy.”

He added: “My thoughts are with those who are to lose their jobs. It’s bad news for the area. But at least the base is still going to be here.”

RAF Menwith Hill is owned by the Ministry of Defence and made available to the US Department of Defense under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement of 1951.

The one-square-mile base was opened in 1960, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s the infrastructure and the number of personnel at the site continued to expand. However, the number of staff working at the site has been rumoured to be decreasing in recent years.

County Coun John Fort (Con, Pateley Bridge) said: “It could have been a lot worse, it is one of those things where there have been rumours for a long time and this way, now people know what is happening.”

He added: “It will affect Harrogate the most, rather than the rural areas.”

Brian Dunsby, chief executive of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said he was ‘naturally concerned’ by the announcement of job losses at the base.

He said: “The American base has provided a significant stimulus to the local economy, although I do not think that Harrogate’s town centre retail will be as affected as if it were to be 500 jobs going in the town centre.”

One local business which will be affected by the cutbacks is The Wellington Inn pub near Darley.

Owner Philippe Dartiailh said: “It is going to impact on me, especially on my lunchtime trade, but what can you do? It’s just part of the cuts.

“Some of the British people who work on the base might lose their job so that will have an impact on the community.”

However Mr Dartiailh said the impact will not be as great as it would have been had the jobs been cut 10 years ago.

He said: “There used to be a lot more business from the base 10 or 15 years ago when the dollar was really strong. All the friends and families would visit and spend money but over the years things have changed.”

Paul Kendall, owner of Kendalls butchers on Pateley Bridge High Street, said the job losses were a blow to the community.

He said: “The Americans have certainly been part of the community over the years, but we have known this was coming for a long time and it has been talked about for months.

“Personally, trade-wise, we do get a little bit of trade from people living at the base but not so much that it is worrying.

“The Americans have been part of the community and they come and they really enjoy what is on offer in the Dale and have got involved with things. It’s always a shame when people lose their jobs.”

MP for Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith, said: “I am sorry that this decision has been made but reassured that the US commitment to Menwith Hill remains strong. I pay tribute to all the UK and US military personnel and civilian staff who work there and do such an important job.”

MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Andrew Jones declined to comment as Menwith Hill is out of his constituency.

EDUCATION

A large number of American families based at Menwith Hill send their children to primary schools and private schools in both Nidderdale and Harrogate.

Coun Helen Flynn (Lib Dem, Nidd Valley) said: “To me, the big impact will be on Darley School. With the current situation, the American school on the base doesn’t start until children are a year older so many go to Darley School for reception class and obviously the funding is done on a per child basis.”

However Darley Parish Councillor Alan Cottrill said he didn’t think Darley Community Primary School would be severely impacted.

He said: “The days of Darley School relying on Menwith Hill have been and gone.”

Despite the job losses there is a chance that local schools will see the number of pupils from the base increasing, as it was announced in August 2013 that Menwith Hill Elementary High School will close down in 2015.

It has been reported that enrolment at the school, which houses kindergarten through to 12th grade, had been on a downward trend for five years, and from August 2012 to August 2013 the school saw a 15 per cent decrease in enrolment.

Sue Welch, treasurer of the Menwith Hill British American Committee, said: “It is very difficult to say the impact at the moment because no one knows which people are staying and which are going. Many children go to the school on the base at the moment but when that closes they will go to local schools, so the number in local schools might actually increase.”

Headteacher of Darley School, Nick Coates said: “In reality we are uncertain of the implications.

“The school on the base will close during the summer of 2015 and many military families will go. However, there are still many civilian families at Menwith who have children but will have no on-base school to attend, so it may be that we will get an increase in numbers at Darley over the next couple of years. 

“What I do know though, is that Darley Community Primary School will continue to provide a fantastic education for whichever children attend, regardless of where they are from or for how long they stay.”

Coun Fort added: “Darley school is the preferred choice for many parents, it is an excellent school and that won’t change.”

HOUSING

The biggest impact is expected to be felt in the rental housing sector as many of the American staff working at Menwith Hill have rented large expensive houses in Harrogate and Nidderdale for several years while they have been based at the site.

Coun Fort said: “A lot of people who work there rent property so there will be a lot of people in the Dale who will lose out on renting to them.”

Squadron Leader Dickson told the Advertiser series that some of the remaining staff at Menwith Hill would still be looking to rent homes in the community.

He said: “I cannot discuss specific numbers but can tell you that within a smaller workforce there will be a sizeable proportion of the remaining workforce who will rent property in the local economy.”

Christopher O’Mahony, Pateley Bridge branch manager of Dacres estate agent, said agents had seen a steady decrease in the number of Americans looking for rental properties in the area.

He said: “Over the past 12 months there hasn’t been as many Menwith Hill staff arriving. There used to be a batch of people arriving every April or September but that hasn’t been the case.

“Obviously there will be a loss of Menwith Hill tenants, with £2,000 a month homes in Darley and Pateley the option of Menwith Hill personnel, but now we can’t expect that.

“But this has coincided with an increase in the sales market, especially in this area.

But councillors say the increased availability of houses in Nidderdale caused by the loss of Menwith Hill staff would not help with the rural housing shortage.

Darley Parish Coun Alan Cottrill said: “If there is one thing Darley needs, it is affordable housing, and the houses that will be freed up by this aren’t affordable for rural working people.”