Dismal time as base and prison close

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THE smallest county will be dealt its biggest blow on Thursday when RAF Cottesmore and Ashwell Prison close on the same day.

People are being urged to say farewell to RAF Cottesmore personnel when they parade through the village and Oakham on Thursday. The base will become a satellite of RAF Wittering next Friday. It comes in the same week as Ashwell Prison will close.

The Lord Lieutenant of Rutland Laurence Howard said: “This final parade is the last opportunity to celebrate the pivotal role RAF Cottesmore has played in the security of our country for more than 70 years.

“Although it will be tinged with sadness, the station’s contribution to the well-being of both county and country merits the heartiest applause. Let us turn out in force to give the men and women of RAF Cottesmore the send-off they so richly deserve.”

Chairman of the Rutland branch of the Royal Air Force Association Duncan Manderson, said: “There is a feeling of great sadness among members as many of us have had an association with RAF Cottesmore in the past.”

The grounded Harriers are being stored at Cottesmore and 400 people are still working there to prepare the aircraft for disposal.

RAF Wittering is also under government review and a decision on its future is expected in July.

The future of Ashwell Prison, which will close on Thursday, is also unclear. The Ministry of Justice says it is too expensive to rebuild the prison after 75 per cent of its buildings were destroyed during riots in 2009.

Staff have been relocated or taken voluntary redundancy but no decision has been made on what will happen to the site.

Rutland County Council chief executive Helen Briggs said: “The site is owned by the Ministry of Justice and the council is waiting to hear what their plans are for the site. “We’re obviously as keen as residents to find out what any plans are to assess their impact on the local area.”

The RAF parade will start at Rogues Lane in Cottesmore at 12.45pm on Thursday and pass along Main Street. It will be followed by a 45-minute service at All Saints’ Church in Oakham at 1.30pm before the parade to a reception at Rutland County Museum, where an oil painting of three Harrier aircraft will be presented to the county.