Liam Fox visits surviving Scottish RAF air base

Defence Secretary Liam Fox speaks with Station Commander Group Captain Andy Hine in front of a Tornado GR4 at RAF Lossiemouth
Image caption Dr Fox said the move would mean more service personnel being stationed in Scotland

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has visited Lossiemouth in Moray, the day after it was confirmed it would become Scotland's only surviving RAF base.

The Typhoon jet fighter force which was to have been built up at RAF Leuchars in Fife will move to the Moray base.

Leuchars and Kinloss, also in Moray, will shut as air bases and be taken over by the Army in the next few years.

Campaigners have cautiously welcomed proposals to move 1,200 army troops into the Kinloss air base.

Before the decisions were announced in the Commons, people in Moray feared they could lose both the area's RAF bases, putting the local economy into difficulty.

During his Lossiemouth visit, Dr Fox met staff who work at the base, as well as local campaigners.

He said: "Having taken some major decisions on basing, that affect thousands of our armed forces, I felt it was important to spend some time speaking to our servicemen and women to explain the changes.

"Scotland will benefit from an increased defence footprint following the basing review, with an uplift of 2,500 personnel.

"Kinloss and Leuchars will have a bright future, with a number of army units moving in."

'Sigh of relief'

Moray Task Force chairman Calum MacPherson said Dr Fox told him Kinloss could see 1,200 new army troops.

He said: "Whilst there are many more questions on the details to be answered, it just gives us some more assurity and allows us to plan going forward."

Mr MacPherson said although a "big sigh of relief" was heard after the decisions were made, the focus for people in Kinloss and nearby Forres would now be on the timing of the changes, with the RAF Kinloss already closing and army troops not taking over until 2014.

He said Dr Fox had also promised that the Ministry of Defence would work with the group and local businesses to help them plan for the future.

Mr MacPherson said the focus and task was now to diversify the area so that it was not reliant on government wages.

The overhaul of air bases is part of a wider review of MoD operations, which will see large reductions in troop numbers but more resources for reserve forces.

Dr Fox said the move would mean more service personnel being stationed in Scotland, and that therefore the ''defence footprint'' would "increase by well over 2,000 posts".

Two major army units and a formation HQ will be based at Leuchars, with the number of posts expected to rise from 1,200 to more than 1,300.

The UK government expects to move the HQ there "no later" than 2014, with the major units following in the period 2015-17.

Army units will move to Kinloss in Moray, which had its fate sealed as an air base in the strategic defence review last year, by about 2014-15.

Following the meeting at Lossiemouth, Moray Council convener George McIntyre said that Dr Fox praised the Moray campaign.

He added: "It was said at the meeting that in October when the [review] was announced, RAF Lossiemouth had a slim chance of surviving as an RAF base.

"It was confirmed that one of the key factors in the decision to retain Lossiemouth as an air base was the quality and power of the local campaign. This just shows what this community can do when it works together, and we are all determined to harness that unity to drive the local economy forward."

Moray SNP MP Angus Robertson said he welcomed the stability for Lossiemouth, but raised concern over the gap before the army arrives at Kinloss.

He went on: "Sadly the UK government is slashing the number of RAF personnel in Scotland by over 50%, is withdrawing the Royal Marines from Scotland almost entirely and is closing a series of military facilities.

"We welcome plans to return Army personnel numbers in Scotland to appropriate levels which are comparable to neighbouring independent countries.

"However, some key conventional capability gaps still remain in Scotland and the SNP will continue to highlight these failings and stand up for our service personnel and communities with a military presence."

Economic impact

North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell, who campaigned for the retention of RAF Leuchars, said the decision on the base was wrong in principle and strategically wrong.

The Lib Dem MP said: "I am steadfast in my view that the decision to close RAF Leuchars has been made for the wrong reasons.

"This base is best placed to protect the skies above Glasgow and Edinburgh, to patrol important installations like Faslane and Torness, and to answer the call should the need arise to protect the population throughout the UK from a terrorist attack from the air in a manner synonymous with the events in the USA on September 11, 2001.

"Its closure will have a profound effect on the ability of the government to protect its citizens."

Alan Russell, of Fife Chambers of Commerce, said: "Our concern is the potential gap between the RAF leaving [Leuchars] and the army coming in and we know that that's a £60m per annum impact on the local economy.

"The impact is the same impact as closure and that is something that is unacceptable.

"And we will be telling the government that they need to make sure that gap is minimised."

He called for Dr Fox to visit Fife to explain his decisions.

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