DCSIMG

Fort George at risk from defence cuts

Key Points

• Plans to abandon army use of Fort George and use RM Condor in Arbroath

• 5 Scottish battalions to be given permanent bases under new system

• Angus Robertson, SNP calls on the government not to close RAF Kinloss/RAF Lossiemouth

Key quote: "It is one of many changes that they are contemplating. The MoD are sitting on large tracts of land that are worth money and they are trying to save every penny they can at the moment. It is called selling off the family silver" - Clive Fairweather, a former Scottish Division colonel and deputy commander of the SAS

Story in full: THE historic barracks at Fort George is being targeted for closure as part of sweeping changes to the way the army operates in Scotland.

Discussions have taken place about moving the army from the 18th-century fort outside Inverness and taking over RM Condor in Arbroath, with the Royal Marines’ 45 Commando relocating to the south coast.

The idea is part of plans to axe one Scottish regiment and restructure the rest of the army in Scotland.

Under the new system, the five surviving Scottish battalions would be given permanent bases, rather than moving around every two or three years. One suggestion is that three battalions would be based permanently in Scotland - at Dreghorn, Redford and the refurbished Glencorse barracks around Edinburgh - with another in Fallingbostel in Germany and another based in England.

Army sources say that defence chiefs favour abandoning Fort George in favour of more modern accommodation.

"There is a growing view that a 18th-century fort is not really a suitable barracks for a 21st-century army," one senior officer said yesterday.

The MoD has already confirmed that the future of RM Condor - home to 45 Commando since 1971 - is under review.

Army sources suggested that Condor could be taken over by the army as home for a non-Scottish regiment.

Yesterday Clive Fairweather, a former Scottish Division colonel and deputy commander of the SAS, said there was no doubt the MoD was serious about closing Fort George.

"It is one of many changes that they are contemplating. The MoD are sitting on large tracts of land that are worth money and they are trying to save every penny they can at the moment. It is called selling off the family silver.

"I have spoken to a number of people who say that it is being actively discussed and I am certain that they want to get out and move to Arbroath."

Opposition politicians reacted angrily to the suggestion that the base would close and demanded the government make a statement on the future of Fort George.

Angus Robertson, the SNP defence spokesman, said: "My reaction is that the Ministry of Defence would be making a terrible mistake to ditch Fort George and the army presence in the north of Scotland.

"The amalgamation to create the Highlanders caused a significant backlash and doing anything that undermines Fort George as a base would be strongly resisted."

David Stewart, the Labour MP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber,

said: "I will be writing to Geoff Hoon to ascertain the future of Fort George. There was no reference to it in last week’s statement. While it may be a logical conclusion to any change to rotation of regiments, my own feeling is that it would be unfortunate to lose this very important base within my constituency."

Fergus Ewing, the SNP MSP for the constituency, said he and Angus Robertson will raise the issue with the government.

Mr Ewing said: "This revelation that Fort George may be the subject of secret closure plans is extremely bad news for the Highlands. It adds to existing concerns that the Highlanders regiment may face the axe."

Fort George, which currently houses the Royal Irish Regiment, was commissioned by King George II following the 1746 defeat at Culloden of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Built overlooking the Moray Firth, it was intended to be an impregnable military base and, with just under a mile of boundary walls, it was one of the most formidable artillery fortifications in Europe.

After Waterloo in 1815 the fort was reportedly considered as a prison for Napoleon. It was first opened to the public in 1964 and at present is the only ancient monument in Scotland still functioning as originally intended.

Yesterday the army said no decisions had been made on the future of Fort George.

"It is pure speculation and until the council of colonels get together and decide the future of the Scottish regiments we don’t know what will happen," said a spokeswoman.

Closure of the barracks would have an inevitable effect on the local community.

The MoD’s own figures show that almost one in fifty of the economically active people in Scotland are supported by the MoD presence in the country.

Army sources said that if Fort George closed as an army base, Historic Scotland, which already runs part of the site as a tourist attraction, would be expected to take over the remaining buildings.

With the MoD facing demands fromthe Treasury to make savings across the board, the closure of some older buildings is increasingly attractive. Reports at the weekend suggested that even Sandhurst College was under threat because the cost of maintaining the buildings had become prohibitive.

Meanwhile the SNP yesterday threw its weight behind attempts to fend off the cuts. Angus Robertson launched a petition calling on the government not to close either RAF Kinloss or RAF Lossiemouth - both of which have been named in a review of bases to be carried out by the MoD - and Roseanna Cunningham, Alex Salmond, Annabelle Ewing and Pete Wishart joined forces in Perth to campaign to back a national Save the Scottish Regiments.campaign

Salmond anger at general's lack of support

 
 
 

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