RAF Benson faced fresh uncertainty last night after report that its Merlin helicopters could be moved to a base in Cornwall.

The Ministry of Defence has refused to deny speculation it is planning a round of cost-cutting which could involve creating a joint RAF and Royal Navy base at Culdrose, the home of the Navy’s Merlin squadrons.

It would mean 28 Merlins, along with about 450 aircrew and engineers from 78 Squadron, 28 Squadron and the Merlin Force engineering squadron, would leave Oxfordshire.

That would leave Benson as the home for the RAF’s Puma helicopters, as well as simulator and training units.

The Sunday Times said the RAF had drawn up proposals to close five bases, cut 10,000 personnel and retire about 80 of its aircraft to pre-empt funding cuts expected in a strategic defence review after next year’s General Election.

The Royal Navy has 44 Merlin helicopters and a Merlin training unit at RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station) Culdrose, near Helston, on the Lizard peninsula, alongside other units operating Sea King helicopters.

If the move is approved, all of Britain’s Merlin helicopters would operate from the base.

The MoD told the Oxford Mail the review would examine how money should best be spent at a time of pressure from a weak pound and increased costs.

A spokesman said: “As is usual in this type of work, a wide range of options are being considered in Planning Round 2010. No decisions have yet been taken.

“It would therefore be premature to speculate about specific measures.”

The review, ordered by the head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, comes just months after the Government abandoned plans to close RAF Benson and move the 1,700 staff and 1,500 relatives who live there to a new “superbase” at RAF Lyneham, in Wiltshire.

Henley MP John Howell said: “Anything that makes life uncertain for the base again is particularly unwelcome to people who live there, who were holding out some hope of receiving extra investment in housing and the RAF Benson School.

“I think we have to work on the basis that if you take anything away from the current configuration it creates uncertainty about its future.

“It’s not fair to the people on the base or the people of south Oxfordshire, who were given hope that the base was going to stay, after years of uncertainty.”

Benson Royal British Legion chairman Peter Eldridge said: “I don’t think we would be worried if part of the base was to be moved.

“Our main concern would be if the whole base went, and that view would apply to just about everybody in the village and the local community.”

The speculation comes as 230 Squadron’s Pumas complete their move from RAF Aldergrove, in Northern Ireland, to Benson to bring both of the RAF’s Puma squadrons together at the same base.