Civilians banned from using army sports facilities

ARMY bosses have given civilians their marching orders from using sports facilities at a Scottish barracks.

Civilians have been banned from using the army's sports facilities in Kinloss. Picture: Martyn Jenkins/Flickr

The Kinloss base in Moray was last year taken over by the 39 Engineer Regiment, previously occupied by the RAF, following the cost-cutting Ministry of Defence restructuring.

But while the RAF had been prepared to share the sports pitches, hangar and gym at the base, the Army has decided against allowing locals access.

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A spokesman said: “Our facilities are for military use and third party usage is very much an exception.

“We are a military organisation and our facilities are primarily provided to support that function.

“The Ministry of Defence budget reduced significantly following the Strategic Defence review of 2010.

“This means that there is less money for maintenance of our sporting facilities.

“There is a much greater emphasis on physical fitness in the British Army, meaning that the existing facilities are in greater demand.

“We have a much greater proportion of younger servicemen and women who use them to a greater extent than was possibly the case with RAF.”

A number of groups and individuals criticised the new policy and were stunned their requests to use facilities were refused.

Craig Barron, Forres community sports hub development officer, approached the Army on behalf of a number of local clubs to find out if they could share the astroturf pitches and sports hangar.

He was told they could not for insurance reasons, and because shared use would encourage more civilian clubs and individuals to make requests that the Army could not meet due to time and financial constraints.

Forres Mechanics were refused and chairman James Anderson said: “The sports hangar was an important winter training facility for us while the RAF were in Kinloss.

“The senior and youth development sides also used the all-weather pitches before, in our opinion, they became unfit for purpose.

“However, after the RAF left we tried to negotiate an arrangement with the Army and they said no.”

Representatives from Mechanics got as far as inspecting the sports hangar but, on finding it in a state of disrepair, their offers to help tidy it up were refused.

He added: “We inspected it on one occasion and found that it had become dirty through lack of attention and slippery, meaning it was dangerous.

“We asked if it could be brought back to the level it was when the RAF maintained it, but the Army said they would not spend money on it.

“We offered to contribute to the care and maintenance of the floor surface if we were given permission and access to cleaning materials, but were told that there wouldn’t be sufficient water to keep it clean even though the RAF managed it in the past.”

The Army later said they could make their sporting facilities available on a case-by-case basis, but at a cost.

Organisations and clubs would be required to take out a commercial licence with a rate set by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, who retain the income generated from the licence.

The spokesman said: “The fees are set at comparable rates to those charged by similar civilian facilities.

“With regards to Forres Mechanics, there is a suggestion that an ‘informal’ arrangement was in place to allow them to use the sports hangar.

“If this was the case it should not have happened as there are clearly issues with security - the sports hangar is “behind the wire” - and insurance.

“We cannot allow a group of civilians - however well meaning - to access the secure part of the barracks to undertake remedial work on our facilities.

“There are clear liability and Health and Safety issues to overcome here; it is all to easy to dismiss these until something happens and the injured then look for someone to be held financially responsible.”

The Army pointed out that they still allow the use of the facilities for charity events.

The spokesman insisted: “We did last year and we will be doing so again later this year. Where we believe we can manage the security implications, and we can absorb the inevitable cost in wear-and-tear, we will continue to agree to some requests to use our facilities.

“However, such activity must be properly organised and supported by the appropriate commercial licence as ad-hoc unofficial arrangements will not be allowed to stand.”

Kinloss Swimming Pool, which was closed last year, despite pleas from the public to keep it open, was previously available to the public.

It was used extensively by RAF Nimrod Crews for sea survival training and the Ministry Of Defence, with the RAF providing the funds for the maintenance and running costs.

“When the Army took over, the requirement for sea survival training disappeared and the MOD stopped providing funds which helped sustain the pool,” said Findhorn and Kinloss Community Council chairman, Les Morgan.

“The Army was left with no alternative but to close the pool.

“However, they continue to maintain the building in a wind and watertight condition so that, if funding ever becomes available, the pool can be reopened.”