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Bunker Mentality

Daniel Scharf of the Oxford Trust for Contemporary History describes the battle to preserve RAF Upper Heyford as a unique monument to the Cold War.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and in 1991 the Cold War ended; in 1993 the US air base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire – the European base of nuclear-equipped B-52s, F-111s and U-2 spy-planes – was declared surplus to requirements in the new post-Cold War era. In September 1994, the last USAF plane flew out of the airbase. The 1.9 mile-long airstrip is now a car park, while the fifty-six concrete hangars – which once sheltered bombers designed to pre-empt or retaliate – are used as warehouses or lie empty. 

The former airbase, which constituted about 1,200 acres, 300 houses, numerous hostels and other buildings  providing accom­modation for about 6,000 servicemen and their families, was used by the RAF in the First and Second World Wars and was handed to the US Air Force in 1951. It is regarded by English Heritage (EH) and the Department of Cul­ture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as the best-preserved Cold War remains in the country. Its pre-eminence as a British landmark of the Cold War was confirmed when the airfield and cruise missile base at Greenham Common was ‘restored’ to common and established as a business park, and the iconic fence re­moved. But in spite of this, Upper Heyford has be­come the focus of another kind of battle in the search for a lasting arrangement for its future. The Oxford Trust for Contem­porary History (OCTH) is playing a key role in fighting to preserve the military areas of Upper Heyford in their entirety, and to retain the fence, which for forty years was the boundary between the UK and ‘Little America’. OTCH believes that the site has world heritage potential as a Cold War landscape, with former military buildings used for museum and interpretative purposes.

On the opposing side of the contest are the local parish councils, Cherwell District Council and Oxfordshire County Council, each of which would prefer  to have the scar left by the military legacy largely removed from the landscape.

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