Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has sought to allay the fears of concerned residents living close to Fylingdales which may be used as part of America's missile defence programme.

Mr Hoon said it was highly improbable that National Missile Defence (NMD) would make Fylingdales a possible target for attack.

He added: ''Neither do we believe that there would be any change in the terrorist threat to Fylingdales.''

The minister said it was ''likely'' that the upgrade would mean no change to the existing pyramid-like landmark radar structure at Fylingdales, and it would remain under UK Government control.

It would involve mainly the installation of new computers and software.

He said: ''The US proposal would require no alteration to the appearance of the radar or the infrastructure of the station, and no new land would be required.''

The minister added that the power and frequency of the radar would not change, ''therefore posing no risk to the health of people or livestock.''

Ministry of Defence sources confirmed that Mr Hoon would make an announcement in the last week of January on the US bid to use Fylingdales for NMD.

The minister will be closely questioned about missile defence by MPs on the high-powered Commons Defence Committee next week, and is likely to be grilled further at Question Time on January 22.