Barracks plan slammed as 'ludicrous bid for fast buck'

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PLANS to sell off historic bases in Edinburgh and build a new super-barracks in West Lothian have been branded "ludicrous" by a retired senior officer who had the job of running large parts of the army in Scotland.

Colonel Clive Fairweather, who held a number of senior positions in the army in Scotland until 1999, has questioned the proposal to build a new super-barracks at Kirknewton which he said was abandoned as an army base in the late 1980s because it was so unpopular with soldiers.

He has accused the Ministry of Defence of only being interested in "trying to make a quick buck" and not in providing proper army accommodation.

The criticism comes as protests have already started in Edinburgh over plans to close Redford and Dreghorn barracks as well as the command headquarters at Craigiehall.

The sell-off is expected by the MoD to raise up to 50 million which would be used to fund the state-of-the-art new barracks in West Lothian and was announced by Defence Secretary Liam Fox in the bases review.

The plans were part of the deal made by ministers with the army to base a new mobile brigade in Scotland which will double the number of soldiers north of the Border to 6,500. This was part of attempts to see off SNP criticism about a declining defence footprint in Scotland ahead of an expected independence referendum in the next few years.

During the bases review, it is understood the army made it clear that if one of the five mobile brigades was to be based in Scotland, it wanted a new super- barracks for most of the troops to be based in.

But Mr Fairweather has hit out at the plans which he claims "make no sense".

He said: "There was military accommodation at Kirknewton until the late 1980s but it was desperately unpopular.

"The main problem was it was miles away from anywhere and it was difficult for them to come back at night. There was a level crossing but not the infrastructure or jobs or facilities for families.

"It is also now millionaire's row and I'm not sure they will welcome hundreds of squaddies arriving on their doorsteps."

On the current buildings now up for sale, he pointed out that the Dreghorn Barracks has recently been upgraded - including putting in a large swimming pool. In addition, he said that both the Dreghorn and Redford barracks are within "easy marching distance" of training areas.

"The Dreghorn barracks is literally 300 yards away from the training area through an underpass," he said.

"It will take five times as long to get there from Kirknewton where no training area will be left, adding to the carbon footprint greatly, as troops will have to be driven.

"The same applies to the ranges on the south side of the Pentlands at Castlelaw. The likelihood therefore, is that these vast new barracks in the middle of nowhere will be good for dossing in and not much more, apart from the odd expensive simulator."He questioned where soldiers performing in the Edinburgh Tattoo would go once the Redford cavalry barracks was sold off. He also raised doubts about the sale of the properties which he claimed would be more difficult than the MoD expects.

"We looked at it when I was the commanding officer at Redford barracks, but these are historic grade-A listed buildings with severe restrictions on their use," he said. "You have to remember as well that the Edinburgh property market is not exactly buoyant at the moment."

He added: "If you look at these proposals much of it is ludicrous and you cannot escape the conclusion that it is more about trying to make a quick buck out of Edinburgh property."

The plans have also been attacked by the city's only coalition MP, Lib Dem Mike Crockart who described it as "historic vandalism." The Edinburgh West MP said: "Just weeks after thousands of people lined the capital's streets to celebrate Armed Forces Day, to find that Edinburgh is to be left without a single army base is, quite frankly, unbelievable.

"Closing down all the Edinburgh bases and starting from scratch at Kirknewton, which does not have any army tradition or great transport links, is difficult to understand."

But last night, the Ministry of Defence rejected the criticism and insisted that the plans were about creating 21st century accommodation for the army.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "While there is a great deal of sentimental attachment to the Dreghorn and Redford barracks they are no longer really fit for purpose for a modern army.

"The new barracks at Kirknewton will be far better, far more environmentally friendly and far more suitable for soldiers in single accommodation and ones in family accommodation.

"We simply want to provide the best for our people which is what needs to be done if Scotland is to have one of the new mobile brigades."

She added that one of the major problems with the historic barracks was that their age meant that upkeep as well as heating and water supply costs were far too high - while the new buildings at Kirknewton would be much more cost effective. She also said that the buildings at Craigiehall were only meant to be temporary and had already been used for 30 years, two decades longer than they were designed for.

Criticism of the distance to training areas was also rejected. "Kirknewton is not far for them to go," she said.She added: "As far as selling the property is concerned, the bases review has involved a lot of work and study and the sale and potential value has been carefully looked at."