Hopes were raised last night that the historic Fort George barracks can still be saved after a Highland delegation held showdown talks with military chiefs.
Council leader Margaret Davidson emerged with “some optimism” after travelling to London to make a last-ditch plea to retain the garrison at the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The group handed Defence Minister Mark Lancaster a dossier of evidence to support the case – including full coverage of the Press and Journal’s ongoing Fight For Fort George campaign.
A decision on the future of the 250-year-old barracks – home to the famous Black Watch battalion – is expected within weeks as the MoD moves to slash the size of its estate.
Mrs Davidson – who attended the talks in London with local MP Drew Hendry and MSP Maree Todd – said they had received no assurances from the minister that it would be retained.
However, she emerged from the talks more hopeful than before, after spelling out the dire consequences of its closure, including the loss of 750 jobs and £16million from the economy.
The local authority leader said: “There is hope and some optimism, but I need to temper it.
“I have come away from the meeting knowing that that man, Mr Lancaster, has a much better understanding of what the impact would be of closing Fort George.
“He was non-committal about the future of Fort George, which was a shame.
“But the meeting went as well as you could hope. I don’t think he really understood, before, the economic impact of the closure of Fort George.
“Hopefully he will now remember Fort George and what we said to him, and he will remember the case against closing it.”
It emerged at the meeting that Mr Lancaster had been temporarily based at Fort George while serving in the Royal Engineers.
About 6,000 people have backed the Press and Journal’s campaign to save the base since we revealed it had been earmarked for closure in June.
Dozens of ex-service personnel and their families have joined the battle, as well as actor Hugh Grant, whose grandfather was a former commander at Fort George.
Highland MSP Ms Todd also raised the future of Kinloss Barracks at the talks, amid fears the Moray base is also being considered for the axe.
Mr Hendry, the SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said the minister was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling in the north.
“We made a very strong and forceful case about all the reasons why Fort George should be retained. We didn’t hold back,” he said.
“I don’t think the minister will be under any illusion that it would be a seriously damaging decision.
“We’ve looked the minister in the eye and we’ve laid out all the reasons – economically, historically, socially and militarily – why Fort George should be retained.”
Mr Hendry vowed that he would not give up, saying: “Things don’t stop here. We will be continuing to fight to retain Fort George.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The MoD is one of the biggest landowners in Scotland with an estate more than eight times the size of the city of Glasgow.
“Every penny made from the sale of sites will be invested back into defence on things like the new maritime aircraft at Lossiemouth or the new ships being built on the Clyde.
“While no final decision about future sites has been made, the government is committed to having an enduring defence presence in Scotland where it continues to invest heavily.”