New radar plans lodged for spy base RAF Menwith Hill

An aerial view of RAF Menwith Hill, showing a number of radomes.
An aerial view of RAF Menwith Hill, showing a number of radomes.

New plans for additional radar shelters at a covert North Yorkshire communications and intelligence base have been lodged by the Ministry of Defence.

The application for a new support building and three radomes at RAF Menwith Hill was submitted to Harrogate Borough Council in June, in a move which would take the total number of shelters at the base to 37.

Informally referred to as 'golf balls' due to their dimpled appearance and colour, the radomes measure 21 metres in diameter and are used to weatherproof radar antenna, while concealing their operations.

Site demolition work set to continue at RAF Menwith Hill

According to documents lodged by the Ministry of Defence, the proposed additions are "required to meet the operational output of the station".

It's the latest development proposed for the listening base, which plays an important, if secretive, role in US and UK intelligence-gathering and communications.

Hundreds of personnel from a variety of international intelligence bodies - including staff from the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and America's National Security Agency (NSA) - operate from the base.

The covert nature of operations conducted from the site have made it the subject of frequent and prolonged demonstrations from a variety of community groups who oppose the presence of international intelligence and military personnel.

Most recently, Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC) staged a peaceful demonstration highlighting their opposition to United States forces at the base on July 4, coinciding with America's Independence Day.

Birstwith Parish Council are yet to publish their views on the application, with the authority's spokesperson stating their intent to make comment following a council meeting set for July 25.

The application is the latest one the Ministry of Defence has lodged with the local authority.

It comes after Harrogate council approved construction of a single additional radome in November 2018, which is scheduled to be built in August 2021.

The council also approved the demolition of 13 buildings, including an accommodation block and school, at the site last year.

That followed a major downsizing of personnel at the base announced in 2015, which saw hundreds of workers cut in a move attributed to a need for less staff due to technological advancements.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter