A leaked report has cast a dark shadow over the long-term future of Arbroath’s military base.
Secret documents, seen by the Courier, have revealed plans for the transfer of a huge chunk of land at the complex for the construction of thousands of new homes. The move has placed a question mark over 45 RM Commando’s presence at the base.
A meeting held behind closed doors at Holyrood in December, involved local authority leaders, Lord Duncan, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, and Keith Brown MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, and discussed wide-ranging aspects of the Ministry of Defence’s estate in Scotland.
The future of Fife facilities including RAF Leuchars and tri-service MOD facility Caledonia were also subject of the high-level discussion.
The papers show the airfield section of the base is to be decontaminated by the UK Government and handed over, free of charge, to Angus Council, paving the way for the construction of around 2,500 homes. Space for business units is also believed to be earmarked.
This has led to concerns about the long-term future, as land used for specialist vehicle storage and training, as well as urban warfare training facilities are thought to be part of the housing land parcel, drastically reducing the military footprint.
Angus South SNP MSP Graeme Dey said, he considered the plan “ill-thought through on a variety of levels.”
“If the site is to be disposed of, better it is handed over to Angus Council for a purpose that will benefit the local community than sold to a private developer,” he said.
“The proposal makes no sense in terms of the usage made of that area of the base and such an action will have practical and significant financial implications for the Marines and MOD.
“The land in question is home to a 100-acre Queens Diamond Jubilee Native Woodland, planted in 2012 and the subject of a 15-year lease held by the Woodland Trust. Do they intend to try and tear up that agreement and the woodland with it ?
“Whilst the airstrip itself may be redundant, the surrounding area is heavily utilised and disposing of it will have significant logistical and financial consequences.
“The land immediately around the airstrip includes an area where marines hone their driving skills. It also the location of a number of hangars which, amongst other things, host a bespoke indoor training centre where marines practice unarmed combat and the techniques used in clearing buildings in urban warfare environments.
“For the MOD to say it is surplus to military requirements is nonsense.
“Either these facilities will have to be re-established elsewhere in what remains of the base, with all the accompanying capital expenditure costs, or 45 Commando will have to travel to train with all the hassle and costs that would entail.
“I also worry that the selling off a chunk of the base is the thin end of the wedge.
“Just under a year ago the then-Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon visited RMV Chivenor after it emerged it was threatened with closure by 2027.
“And in justifying the question marks over its future, he specifically pointed to the fact the airstrip there was no longer in use.”
Angus Council leader Bob Myles, said: “I sought, and received, assurances that RM Condor would retain the Royal Marines at Condor, and I welcome this assurance.”
MoD assurances given
Repeated assurances have been given over a continued 45 Commando presence at Condor since the announcement almost exactly two years ago the airfield is to be disposed of, under a review of MOD assets.
An MOD spokesperson said: “We are one of the biggest landowners in Scotland, with an estate more than eight times the size of the City of Glasgow.
“The government is committed to having an enduring defence presence in Scotland and we continue to invest heavily in our estate.”
“Protecting the UK will always be our top priority and the Royal Marines will play a vital role in the defence of our country. Just last month we launched the Modernising Defence Programme to strengthen our Armed Forces in the face of intensifying threats.
The spokesperson continued: “In November 2016, the MOD announced the intention to dispose of the airfield at RM Condor by 2020, but no decisions have been taken about the rest of the site.
“Our Better Defence Estate strategy will deliver a more efficient, modern and capability- focused defence estate.
“Every penny raised from the sales will be reinvested back into defence, creating areas of military expertise in specific locations around the country.
“As well as saving the taxpayer money – around £140 million by the end of the decade – the changes will reduce the number of personnel being regularly moved between different bases, providing greater long term stability and certainty for our Armed Forces and their families.
“The plan will see sites and bases moved to locations that offer better opportunities for military families – increasing prospects for partners and spouses, helping them to settle into communities, buy their own homes and have their children benefit from more stable schooling.”