The unit responsible for co-ordinating UK search and rescue (SAR) assets 24 hours a day, seven days a week is to leave Moray.
The Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) has been at Kinloss since 1997, when it combined the responsibilities of two former RAF rescue centres based in Fife (at Pitreavie Castle) and Plymouth.
However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has decided that the ARCC will relocate 600 miles south to Titchfield in Hampshire to the National Maritime Operations Centre, which itself opened last September led by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.
Although its primary role is the management of SAR for military aviation, most of its requests are for assistance from the coastguards, police forces and ambulance services, as well as being alerted by civil and military air traffic control organisations.
It co-ordinates an extensive list of activities associated with SAR operations, including mountain rescue. Additionally, the ARCC is tasked as the UK Mission Control Centre responsible for the detection and notification of emergency distress beacon alerts, and is able to detect beacon activations worldwide through a network of satellites.
Annually, it receives more than 3,600 requests for assistance, deploying assets on more than 2,600 occasions and directly assisting over 2,000 people.
The SNP has described the MoD announcement as ‘devastating’, claiming it as just the latest in a series of disproportionate defence cuts in Scotland which have included the ending of RAF flight operations at two out of three airbases, the scrapping of the entire maritime patrol fleet and the lowest personnel numbers in living memory.
Westminster SNP Leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP, whose Moray constituency is home to Kinloss Barracks and the rescue centre, said: “This is devastating news for the personnel at Kinloss, for Moray and for Scotland more generally.
“We have already seen numbers at Kinloss drastically cut through the crazy scrapping of the entire Nimrod Maritime Patrol fleet and in Scotland as a whole we have the lowest military personnel numbers in living memory.
“That the closure announcement is happening in the middle of a life threatening storm and comes only weeks after the independence referendum tells you much about the cynical approach of the MoD and the UK government.”
His Moray colleague, Richard Lochhead MSP, added: “This will be a sad loss of dozens of highly skilled workers from Moray, both military and civilian, and is yet further damage to the local economy in the Kinloss, Forres and wider Moray area.”
There are 27 military personnel employed at the ARCC alongside 10 civilians. Although military personnel are likely to be transferred or re-deployed, there are no current indications if the civilians will be transferred or offered redundancy.