Liam Fox urged to clarify details of Leuchars closure

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish government has called on Conservative Defence Secretary Liam Fox to clarify his intentions over the future of Leuchars and other bases facing closure after the UK’s defence review.  The Ministry of Defence plans to close the RAF base at Leuchars and then to use the base facilities to house army personnel.

There remains great uncertainty in local communities regarding the timescale for the army moving into Leuchars or the closure of the other bases.  The uncertainty is causing serious problems for local businesses which depend upon the revenue the defence personel generate for the local economy and is also affecting the ability of the local authority and Scottish government to make appropriate planning decisions.  

In a letter to Mr Fox, Bruce Crawford MSP, the Holyrood government’s Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy, stressed the commitment of the Scottish government to collaborating closely with the MoD but requested a firm commitment from the Defence Secretary in order to lay local fears to rest.  Mr Crawford said:  

“We … need to reassure communities and service planners, by providing greater clarity throughout the implementation process and by giving clear commitments against which local planning decisions can be made.  As I am sure you will have witnessed, there is continued uncertainty in communities, and in the media about the finality of your statement and the implications of the reductions in army personnel, particularly in the case of the Edinburgh barracks and gaps at RAF bases.  We would therefore urge you to provide a firm commitment that the outcomes announced in your July statement will be delivered as stated, or to be transparent if the implementation of any element is subject to further evaluation.”

Mr Crawford went on to point out that the uncertainty is also prejudicing the ability of Scottish and local government to fulfil their obligations, saying:

“We are also seeking clarity about the time scales and approaches to transition planning and would urge you to provide a public statement about when the next level of detail will be shared.  This, as I know you will appreciate, is important not only for communities and serving personnel, but also to allow our officials to plan the detail of the devolved implications of the changes.

“Decisions are being taken now which make assumptions about the future of the service personnel in particular areas, including for example decisions in relation to Madras College in Fife, and to infrastructure enhancements in Kirknewton.”

Commenting, Roderick Campbell, SNP MSP for North East Fife said:

“The Scottish Government is right to ask these questions. Cabinet Secretaries have met the communities affected and the potential gap between the RAF leaving and the Army arriving in Leuchars is a real concern.

“The local community have been left by the MoD with increasing questions and no answers from the UK Government.

“We need to learn now the exact details of the MOD’s plan in order to allow residents, businesses and the Local Authorities to properly prepare and adjust for the future.

“It is reassuring that the Scottish Government is taking a proactive approach in seeking immediate clarity over the issue. It’s often forgotten what knock-on effects there can be for local services including GP surgeries, Primary Schools and other amenities.

“There is understandable apprehension about what the future holds in these areas, which are not just those affected by large Air Base closures but other military bases such as the Edinburgh Barracks.

“These are positive steps but the UK Government must reciprocate and respond immediately so that we can all work together in ensuring a future for these local communities.”