A HAMPSHIRE community will be put on a war style footing as one of the biggest mine clearances operations ever seen in the county gets underway, Up to 3,000 residents could be evacuated as Army bomb disposal experts move into former HMS Daedalus Royal Naval air base at Lee-on-the-Solent.

Yesterday the Ministry of Defence unveiled plans to remove 20 Second World War pipe mines. The military operation will start on September 25 and continue for up to five weeks.

At one time there were 265 pipe mines on the airfield, packed with a total of 2,400lb of gelignite.

The mines were planted in the early 1940s so the airfield would be unusable if there was a German invasion. Documentary evidence had indicated that the site was free of pipe mines.

But a recent review using state of the art detetection equipment revealed that 20 mines were still buried in five areas of the airfield.

Although the mines are safe in their current position the MOD says it now has a duty to remove them in a planned and controlled manner.

Soldiers from the 33 Engineering Regiment of the Royal Engineers will take control of the airfield during the operation. Exclusion zones of up to 750 metres will be necessary for each pipe mine. Although it may be possible to reduce these to 300 metres depending on whether each pipemine is confirmed to contain explosives or not.

The mine clearance will only take place between 9.30 am and 4pm Monday to Friday and the evacuation of the vast majority of houses might only be needed on Monday mornings.

Residents can choose to stay in their homes but they must remain inside and not wander into the exclusion zones. Those who choose to be evacuated will be given shelter at either the Lee-on-the-Solent Community Centre or Crofton Community Centre at Stubbington.

Ian Hoult, Hampshire County Council's Emergency Planning Officer, said: "Our concern has been the general public and their well-being. We have distributed 6,500 leaflets throughout the area to homes and businesses."

He said that only about 1,000 households would need to be evacuated which would involve between 2,000 and 3,000 residents. There would also be temporary road closures.

Many months of planning have gone into what Mr Hoult described as a huge operation. The Defence Estates - the MOD Agency responsible for land and building assets - is working closely with Hampshire County Council, Fareham and Gosport Borough Councils, Hampshire police as well as the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and the South East England Development Agency who both own areas of the airfield affected.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is based next to the airfield says it will be "business as usual" during the pipe bomb clearance. Coastguard staff and rescue helipcoters will be re-locating to stations at Portland, near Weymouth while the work is being carried out.

Leader of the County Council Cllr Ken Thornber said: "This is a major exercise by the MOD, and one that we fully appreciate will cause inconvenience to a great many people.

"That's why, along with all the other agencies involved, we've been working so diligently to reduce the disruption that, unfortunately, is an inevitable part of an operation on this scale.

"The pipe mines were installed during the Second World War so that the airfield could be destroyed in the event of a German invasion. With modern detection equipment, the exact location of each mine was pinpointed during routine site work for a new hangar for the MCA, which now owns the airfield.

"Now that the mines have been discovered they must be removed, even though they pose no risk as they are."