Battle lines being drawn over Kinloss – but MOD plans still look vague

Battle lines are being drawn to retain Army presence in Moray.
Battle lines are being drawn to retain Army presence in Moray.

SCOTLAND’S FIRST MINISTER has written to the UK Defence Minister demanding ‘clarity’ over the suggested closure of Kinloss Barracks.

It remains unclear, however, how the Moray base can be affected by MOD proposals that are to do with selling off surplus estate when indications are it would cost millions to close Kinloss under the conditions of its original lease for defence purposes.

Meanwhile, the Moray Economic Partnership has met and formed a ‘Kinloss Task Force’ with the job of monitoring the situation and organising local support against any threats to the continuing existence of the 39 Engineer Regiment in Moray.

Nicola Sturgeon entered the debate this week by writing to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, insisting that it would be “astonishing” if Kinloss was closed despite promises given in the past.

She wrote: “It is astonishing that the MOD would contemplate removal of the Army from Kinloss, given the investment and huge effort made by the Armed Forces and local community to facilitate the transfer from the RAF to 39 Engineer Regiment.

“This is a fresh blow to Scotland, coming so soon after the news that Fort George faces threat of closure. Both closures would have a far-reaching economic impact and I request that you clarify your plans immediately and remove uncertainty over the future of these sites.”

Last night a Moray-based defence estates expert insisted that, as far as he was aware, Kinloss’ status was quite different in that it was not owned by the MOD – so he could not understand how it could be included in the sale of land for the purpose of encouraging build of new homes, as previously stated by defence chiefs.

He told insideMoray: “I noted the question being asked over who owns Kinloss, and as far as I’m aware the land is not owned by the MOD so they could not use its sale to fund other projects, as they have indicated.

“Further, it has been recorded by Scottish Natural Heritage that considerable historic contamination exists on the site. Before any building could be done at Kinloss, that would need to be cleared from the site – and the cost of that would run into several millions.

“Quite simply, the MOD statement on Kinloss – that they are looking to sell what they do not need so new homes could be built – does not, as far as I’m aware, stand up to even the most basic scrutiny.”

Kinloss Task Force

Promises made when the RAF lowered their colours at Kinloss must be kept.
Promises made when the RAF lowered their colours at Kinloss must be kept.

A first meeting of the Kinloss Task Force on Tuesday saw strong cross-party support for resisting any moves defence ministers might have in mind towards the closure of Kinloss.

The extraordinary meeting of the Moray Economic Partnership was attend by Councillor and MSP Douglas Ross, who said: “It was a very useful and constructive initial meeting and I welcome the fact that the Moray Economic Partnership convened so quickly after initial concerns were raised about the future of Kinloss.

“I’m pleased to be part of this cross-party group as it works towards securing the best deal for Kinloss and Moray. And I fully support the calls for a consultation on any future decisions about the base.

“There is a lot to be discussed in a short space of time but there was a positive attitude of everyone involved to work together on this issue.”

Also attending were Angus Robertson MP, Richard Lochhead MSP and leader of the SNP at Moray Council, Gary Coull.

Angus Robertson, who last week was first to reveal that Kinloss was in MOD’s sights, said: “After it became apparent last week that the MOD has actively been considering the future of Kinloss Barracks it was very important that this threat was taken seriously.

“Today’s meeting of key organisations and representatives was productive and identified the actions that we must take immediately.

“It is good that we are co-operating as a community in this way to tackle the serious social and economic issues that the potential closure of Kinloss throws up. Time is of the essence with the strong possibility of an announcement on defence estate cuts in just a matter of weeks.”

Richard Lochhead added: “Today’s meeting recognised that it is unacceptable for the UK Government to decide the future of the Kinloss Barracks without consulting the local community.

“The list of broken promises is growing. Assurances were given at the time of the original announcement of the regiment being posted to Kinloss and now the MOD has broken a recent pledge to consult on the barracks’ future. We need consultation and we need clarity on what options are being considered by the MOD.”

Councillor Coull said: “The SNP has led calls for a ‘Taskforce’ style meeting, similar to the one that met during the RAF Lossiemouth campaign and I am pleased that this has now happened.

“While a campaign to protect the role of Kinloss Barracks will be much shorter, a matter of weeks rather than months, the social and economic issues it raises are very similar to the Lossiemouth campaign.

“We were promised an army presence at Kinloss when its closure as an RAF base was announced only a few short years ago and in relation to the current review it transpires that a consultation was promised by the MOD.

“That consultation promise seems to be well and truly broken and it is vital that the promise of an army presence at Kinloss does not go the same way. Getting clarity from the MOD will be one of the main aims in the coming days and weeks.”

Fight will be to retain Kinloss Barracks

The Chairman of the Moray Economic Partnership, Councillor John Cowe, said that the fight is clear – to retain Kinloss Barracks as promised by the Ministry of Defence in 2012.

He said: “We will be contacting as a matter of urgency to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Scotland to seek clarification and assurances that the government will keep the promise made to Moray Council officers with regard to a public consultation.

“Personnel of 39 Engineer Regiment (Air Support) have fully integrated into our community, and we anticipated them staying with us following the last review.

“Closure of the Kinloss Barracks would have a huge impact on the local economy of the area, and we would expect the government to consult widely before coming to any decision- as they originally promised.”

How the threat has been covered by insideMoray:

August 15Moray MP Angus Robertson revealed that Kinloss Barracks was on a hit-list being considered for closure in an Estates review by the Ministry of Defence.  Tory Douglas Ross hits back saying there is ‘no decision’ although he admits talks had taken place with the Council, he calls for cross-party unity over the issue.

August 16 – Defence spokeswoman says that the review covers excess lands sales with property being used for affordable homes – they deny any decision on Kinloss has been taken.  Within hours, Angus Robertson reveals that Moray Council was aware of the threat to Kinloss.  It later emerges that Council officials have been in talks for four months – but that Council leaders say they were only told when the news broke on Monday.  Moray Tory MSP Douglas Ross hits back at SNP, saying the Westminster SNP leader should be ‘ashamed of himself’ for revealing secret talks had taken place.

August 17 – The SNP Group called on a joint approach led by Moray Council to save Kinloss – at the Full Council meeting this was agreed by all councillors (above).  Councillors then agreed unanimously to request the Moray Economic Partnership form a Task Force and draw together the case for retaining Kinloss Barracks.

August 18 The protest campaign grows – we ask questions, however, on just what form the threat is taking, as it emerges things may not be as straightforward as they seem.