Westminster backtracks on Leuchars army deployment

CONCERNS have been raised about the future of RAF Leuchars after a senior government minister suggested that plans to move army units there were still under consideration.

North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell is to write to the Ministry of Defence to seek clarification over the deployment of army units to the RAF base in 2014 as announced by former defence secretary, Liam Fox.

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Fears the move might not go ahead have emerged amid speculation in Westminster that Mr Fox’s replacement, Philip Hammond, could be taking a fresh look at some of his predecessor’s plans with a view to making further cuts. If the army units are not moved to Leuchars, it could face closure, which would damage the Fife economy.

It is understood senior RAF figures are pressing Mr Hammond to reconsider the decision to close Leuchars as an air base in favour of keeping Lossiemouth in Moray open. There are concerns basing Typhoon squadrons in Lossiemouth instead of Leuchars would damage the UK’s rapid reaction capability.

But while a U-turn over RAF basing is unlikely, the future of army units is unclear with 20,000 soldiers due to be moved from German bases, but 18,000 also to be cut from the total. Earlier this year when then Defence Secretary Mr Fox announced his review decisions, he promised the loss of the RAF at Leuchars would be compensated by bringing in army units.

It was suggested the 1st Armoured Division, now in Germany, was set for the base. But in defence questions this week, Liberal Democrat armed forces minister Nick Harvey made it clear army plans were now being looked at again.

He was answering a question from Lib Dem Sir Menzies who wanted to know when details of a deployment to Leuchars could be expected. He said: “Promises have been made. Is it not time we were told how these promises are to be implemented and some guarantees were given?”

Mr Harvey’s response caused further concern when he appeared to suggest any deployment at Leuchars was subject to an internal army review on how it plans to cut 18,000 soldiers.

He said: “As far as the particulars of RAF Leuchars or any other base are concerned, further work is under way on the site-by-site analysis, but there is a further complication, as the army is conducting a large piece of work on its future shape and structure, so we will not come to any final decisions on basing until that work is concluded … early next year.”

Sir Menzies said: “It appears many of the decisions over Scottish bases have been reopened. My constituents are extremely anxious there should be no gap between any departure by the RAF and the arrival of the army. If the army are not to come then the RAF should not leave.”