AN RAF base threatened with closure could become a military communications centre, it emerged last night.

A recent Ministry of Defence decision not to deploy the new Joint Combat Aircraft at RAF Leeming, near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, increased fears that the base could close.

However, local councillors have been told the base is being considered as a site for key communications staff.

Earlier this year, the MoD announced that a communications hub would be built at RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire.

But the Government is reviewing that decision amid rising estimates of the cost to convert the base.

The possibility of using other bases, including RAF Leeming, is being investigated.

Hambleton District Council leader, Councillor Arthur Barker, said: "This is very good news for Hambleton; for our residents and businesses.

"To hear that RAF Leeming continues to be considered for other military use, in this case a very important communications hub, is encouraging.

"It is a major employer for Hambleton and we want to ensure that the base remains very much part of the life of the district."

Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh was yesterday told by Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram to be cautiously optimistic over the future of the base.

After a meeting with him, she said: "All those working on the base or living nearby do wonder what the future holds for RAF Leeming.

"Currently, there are approximately 1,590 military personnel and 270 civilians working at the base, so it is a major employer and makes a big contribution to the local economy too.

"The minister assured me that we could be cautiously optimistic about the future of the base and intimated that an announcement is likely to be made very early in the new year.

"So, while there is no early Christmas present for RAF Leeming, we should know its fate within a month."

There is also speculation that RAF Leeming could become an additional training area for the Army based at Catterick Garrison, in North Yorkshire.

The 25 Tornado Fighter Squadron is due to leave Leeming in 2008, leaving only the 100 Hawk Squadron, and administration and air defence staff.