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Fort George closure would cost Highland economy millions of pounds

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Plans to close the historic Fort George barracks could cost the Highland economy £14million a year and lead to the loss of more than 100 jobs, it has emerged.

And fears have been raised that the shock proposal to end the Army’s 250-year association with the base could jeopardise the future of recently-refurbished The Highlanders Museum.

The Press and Journal has launched a campaign to save Fort George after we revealed on Wednesday that it had been earmarked for closure by UK military chiefs.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), which is seeking to save £1billion by cutting its footprint by 30%, has refused to rule out withdrawing from the base, but insisted that “no final decisions” have been taken.

Sign our petition: Fight for Fort George

Built after the Battle of Culloden, the garrison has been the home of the famous 500-strong Black Watch battalion for almost a decade, and also houses the regimental museum for The Highlanders.

The base attracts 55,000 visitors each year, and studies carried out into its economic impact have revealed that its closure could cost £14 million and lead to the loss of 112 jobs.

There are more than 200 military homes in the Raigmore area of Inverness, and almost half of the roll of Raigmore Primary School was previously estimated as being made up of children from military families.

Fraser Grieve, Highlands and Islands director of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said: “Fort George is a very important and long-standing military estate and plays a significant role in the region, with many families reliant and based here.

“It would be a great loss to see it go, and I would certainly hope for clarity over its future as soon as possible and confirmation that it will continue.”

Strong links also exist between the base and the Royal Family, with Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, regularly visiting in his role as Royal Colonel of the Black Watch.

The Highlanders Museum at Fort George recently underwent a £2.9million refurbishment, before being reopened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2013.

It houses roughly 20,000 artefacts and an estimated 10,000 documents and photographs, making it the largest regimental museum in Scotland outside of Edinburgh.

George Givens, of the Queen’s Own Highlanders Regimental Association, said last night: “It would be a sad day for us if Fort George was to close, especially as our regimental museum is there. It would be a complete shame.”

Fort George is owned by the MoD and is currently occupied as an Army barracks 365 days a year, but the site is operated by Historic Environment Scotland on behalf of Scottish ministers as an all year visitor attraction.

A spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland said: “We have been made aware of the options the Army are exploring in relation to Fort George and expect to have discussions with the Army and the Scottish Government soon.

“The site, which attracts over 55,000 visitors annually, remains fully open to visitors.”

The Highlanders Museum declined to comment last night, but one source close to the regimental association said that a pull-out by the Army would have a “severe impact” on the future of the museum.

The north of Scotland has already suffered the closure of Kinloss as an RAF base in recent years, as well as uncertainty over the future of RAF Lossiemouth.

Scottish Government minister Keith Brown held talks with MoD chiefs over the plans on Thursday, and has written to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to say that closing Fort George would have “huge significance” for Scotland.

An MoD spokesman said: “As part of an ongoing review, we are aiming to create a smaller and better defence estate that effectively supports our Armed Forces in the important role they play.

“The MoD is considering how it might achieve this and no final decision about the future of Fort George has been made at this time.”

Fight For Fort George

A Press and Journal campaign to save the 250-year-old Fort George garrison received widespread backing after it was launched yesterday.

Dozens of people signed an online petition to fight the potential closure in the first few hours after it went live.

Support was offered by SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, and Highlands and Islands MSPs David Stewart, Rhoda Grant and Kate Forbes.

Mr Robertson, the Moray MP, said: “It is important to support the campaign to save Fort George.

“The SNP has been campaigning for years against the disproportionate cuts to the defence footprint in Scotland. Westminster has an appalling record in cutting bases, capabilities and personnel.”

Labour MSP Mr Stewart said: “Fort George is an iconic and very important garrison, currently in use by the Black Watch.

“I would be very disturbed at any suggestion that it will be closed. Obviously we had quite a severe defence review under the last administration and Kinloss was closed as an RAF base.

“The prospect of losing another very important base in the Highlands would be very concerning. I will do all I can to stop it, and I would 100% back the campaign and congratulate the Press and Journal for that initiative.”

Sign the petition here –