One of Cambridgeshire's oddest traditions gets under way this morning...
HMS Sultan Gosport On MoD Closure List
HMS Sultan in Gosport among another 56 Ministry of Defence sites are set to close around the UK over the next 10 years to save money.
Another 56 Ministry of Defence sites are set to close around the UK over the next 10 years including HMS Sultan in Gosport.
The Defence Secretary says other sites also earmarked for closure are the Sir John Moore Barracks in Winchester in 2021 and the Royal Army Veterinary Cor Centre in Hampshire by 2019.
A further 56 Ministry of Defence sites are set to close across Britain, the Defence Secretary has announced.
Sir Michael Fallon told the Commons the closures will include eight sites in Scotland and three apiece in Wales and Northern Ireland, in the biggest announcement to date in the review of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) estate.
Sir Michael said the estate was too big and costly to run, with the latest batch of closures paving the way for a more modern military.
Sir Michael told the Commons: ``This strategy looks ahead to 2040 to provide a better defence estate.
``An estate that supports a more efficient and effective military capability; an estate that gives our armed forces a world class base from which to work, and an estate that helps defence keep Britain safe and to promote our prosperity.''
Sir Michael said the changes would mean the Royal Navy remained focused on port bases and naval stations.
MPs heard that surface ships would be based in Portsmouth and Devonport, with all the United Kingdom's submarines based on the Clyde.
There will be a specialist amphibious centre in the South West, based around Devonport, with helicopters based at Yeovilton and Culdrose.
Sir Michael added the army would have ``specialised infantry'' at Aldershot, mechanised wheel capability in Catterick, air assault forces in Colchester, armoured vehicle units around Salisbury Plain, medical services in the West Midlands and hubs of light infantry battalions in London, Edinburgh, Lisburn, St Athan, Blackpool and Cottesmore.
In the RAF, combat units would remain in Coningsby, Marham and Lossiemouth, with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services remaining in Waddington.
Air transport will be based at Brize Norton, force protection will be based at Honington, and support enablers would be based at Wittering and Leeming.
In Scotland, eight sites will be released over the next 15 years, Sir Michael said.
He said investment in specialised centres would focus on Lossiemouth, Faslane and Leuchars.
``Contrary to some speculation and unnecessary scaremongering, Kinloss will be retained,'' added Sir Michael.
In Wales, the estate will be brought together into ``capability clusters'', Sir Michael said, with a specialist light infantry centre at St Athan.
In Northern Ireland, three sites will be released and the remaining operations will be centred on larger centres of population, he added.
Sir Michael said: ``As we implement these plans, we will seek to minimise any disruption to the armed forces, civilians and their families, and to give as much notice as possible over planned redeployments.
``By releasing sites we no longer need, we can help build the houses we do need.
``I can confirm that the MoD now has firm plans to achieve its target to release sufficient lands to build up to 55,000 houses in this Parliament.''
Last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) outlined the MoD's aim to reduce the size of its estate by 30% before 2040.
The MoD had previously announced the closure of 35 sites, freeing up enough land for up to 39,000 new homes and potentially generating around #930 million.
Nia Griffith, the shadow defence secretary, said Labour recognised ``there is a need to modernise'' the defence estate.
She said: ``The Government is right to seek to restructure the estate to ensure that we optimise our military capability and deliver value for money for the British taxpayer.
``The changes proposed in this report are very considerable in scale and there is a real need to ensure they are delivered in a way that does not cause undue challenges to our forces and their families.''
Ms Griffith also sought assurances that the money raised through the sale of sites would be kept by the Ministry of Defence rather than going to the Treasury.
Sir Michael said: ``The Ministry of Defence owns I think around a thousand sites in all - 300 very large sites - and I'm announcing today the disposal of 56 of those 300 large sites.
``So yes, it's a large number of disposals but it is based in each case on military advice as to how the capabilities the armed forces need can be better clustered and on how the families of those who work for us can be better looked after in terms of job opportunities for their partners and more stability for their children.''
He added: ``All of the receipts, not some of them but all of the receipts, will come back in to the defence budget.''
Julian Lewis, Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, stressed the importance of the UK's armed forces retaining the ability to expand in time of war.
He asked: ``Are you satisfied that our relatively small forces will have the capability to regenerate in time of war if they do not have a sufficiently large defence estate to occupy in times of emergency expansion?''
Sir Michael replied: ``The strategy being published today does not include so far the training estate where obviously to regenerate forces, as you said in time of war, we would obviously seek to rely on the training facilities we have and we are looking carefully at those at the moment.''
SNP defence spokesman Brendan O'Hara condemned the closure plans.
He said: ``While we have been primed to expect big reductions in Scotland's defence footprint, having now heard the statement, I fear that when a Government department tries to spin cutbacks as being investment concentrated in fewer, better locations what they are actually saying is 'prepare for a savaging of what remains of Scotland's defence footprint'.''
Mr O'Hara said it would be ``absolutely unacceptable if once again Scotland's service personnel and our conventional defence capability has been hollowed out and sold off because of this Government's obsession with nuclear weapons''.
Sir Michael rejected Mr O'Hara's concerns as he said the Government is investing in defence infrastructure north of the border, including increasing employment on the Clyde from 6,800 to 8,200.
He said: ``That is not savaging Scotland. That is investing in Scotland.''
SNP MP Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) expressed anger at the planned closure of Fort George, the home of the Black Watch.
He said: ``A decision to abandon the Highlands with the closure of the garrison at Fort George after 250 years of service and sacrifice would be bad enough.
``Given the disgraceful lack of engagement with our communities and even the Scottish Government, what assurances will the minister now give if this is correct to the 750 people in supporting jobs that are affected, the communities economically hit and to those who were told that the Fort was the permanent home of the Black Watch?''
Sir Michael said Fort George is not due to close until 2032.
``There is plenty of time to consult with the local authority and others about the future use of that site,'' he said.
``Fort George is a very old barracks, it costs #1.6 million a year to run, it's extremely expensive to upgrade and it is not appropriate for a modern infantry unit.''
Responding to the statement in the house of Lords, Tory former defence minister Andrew Robathan raised concerns that the reduction in the number of military bases could fuel a ``growing disconnect'' between the armed forces and the public.
He said: ``Can the minister reassure me that actually this will not lead to the civilian population regarding the armed forces as a race apart?''
Defence minister Earl Howe said: ``I will be quite open with him. It is a risk.
``The more you concentrate personnel in fewer centres the more that the population as a whole will feel disconnected from the armed services.
``Ways must be found therefore to prevent that happening.''
He highlighted events such as Remembrance Sunday and the work of military charities including Help for Heroes.
``It is something we need to bear in mind as we go forward,'' the minister added.
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