MoD U-turn over £400m Edinburgh super-barracks

PLANS to build a £400 million army super-barracks on the outskirts of Edinburgh have been scrapped by the Ministry of Defence less than a year after they were first announced, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

An internal review has concluded the contentious proposal was too expensive and based on “flawed logic” involving the sale of historic barracks in the city, said MoD sources.

The yet-to-be-announced decision grants a reprieve to the Craigiehall HQ north of Edinburgh as well as either Dreghorn or Redford barracks on the city’s outskirts. The remaining site is expected to be sold. The initial plan, announced by Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox last July, was to fund a new super-barracks on an old glider field in Kirknewton, West Lothian, with cash raised from selling all three.

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But now it appears the decision has been overturned by Philip Hammond, brought in to replace Fox who resigned following questions over the role of friend, Adam Werritty.

The bases review, unveiled last year, was meant to determine the configuration of armed forces around the UK after the army withdraws from Germany by 2020.

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The prospective sale of the historic bases in Edinburgh attracted widespread criticism, with doubts raised about the prospect of selling during a property slump and questions over the estimated £400m cost of the Kirknewton complex, which was also an unpopular choice with military families.

Hammond has been looking at how to make further savings in the MoD, which was £38 billion over budget when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition took over from Labour.

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The retention of Craigiehall, outside Edinburgh, means RAF Leuchars in Fife will not become army command, though it will become an army base when the RAF leaves.

But a question mark hangs over whether to continue with plans for housing soldiers in the former naval base, HMS Caledonia, because of the cost of upgrading the facility.

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Last night, opposition MPs said that the U-turn indicated coalition confusion.

Dunfermline and West Fife Labour MP Thomas Docherty, a member of the Defence Select Committee, said the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) published in November 2010 now had to be revisited. He said: “This news confirms what the defence community has argued for 18 months – that the SDSR was driven by the Treasury not the Ministry of Defence.

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“I welcome any move by the MoD that recognises that building a new site at Kirknewton from scratch and closing all three Edinburgh bases made little sense.”

But he said it was also embarrassing for the SNP after Alex Salmond endorsed the plans. Docherty said: “This is hugely embarrassing for the SNP who just weeks ago backed the base review. The SNP don’t seem to know if they are coming or going on this.”

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The SNP’s Angus Robertson said: “UK defence plans are coming off the rails. The time has come to make better defence decisions in Scotland.”

Edinburgh West Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart, who led the campaign to keep Craigiehall open, said: “Local communities will breath a huge sigh of relief if the uncertainty around jobs and schools is removed.

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“I urge the MoD to yield to the overwhelming case and announce an orderly retreat.”

An MoD spokesman said: “This is speculation. We are committed to delivering a coherent and affordable defence capacity in 2020 and beyond, as set out in the rebasing announcement last July.”