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The Black Watch: Leuchars tipped as ‘natural choice’ for battalion’s new home

The Black Watch.

Leuchars Station has been tipped to become the new home of the famous Black Watch battalion if defence chiefs accelerate the closure of Fort George.

Fife politicians described the former RAF base as the “natural choice”, saying it was the best equipped and would allow the Army unit to return to its traditional recruiting area.

The backing from former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, and local MP Wendy Chamberlain, was given amid reports that Fort George could close earlier than planned.

The Black Watch – also known as 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS) – has been based at the barracks, near Inverness, since 2007.

Leuchars Station.

UK Government ministers announced in 2016 that Fort George would stop being an operational Army base by 2032, but it has now been suggested that the move could be fast-tracked.

Front-runner

Military chiefs have previously stated the 500-strong Black Watch would move to another base in Scotland when Fort George closes, and Leuchars has been considered the front-runner.

In 2017, then Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the move “would bring The Black Watch back into their traditional Tayside recruiting ground”.

The former RAF base was handed over to the Army in March 2015, becoming Leuchars Station and home to Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon.

Earlier this month it was confirmed that the airstrip at the base would be maintained as a back-up to RAF Lossiemouth.

Mr Rennie, the North East Fife MSP, said the base would be ready to take the Black Watch as well.

“I strongly believe that Leuchars is the best way forward for the Black Watch and have said that many times,” he said.

“The Ministry of Defence has recently confirmed that the RAF will continue to use and maintain the airstrip indefinitely and that it will be investing in the base’s future.

Willie Rennie MSP.

“Successive ministers have also said that Leuchars is a very strong candidate for rehousing the Black Watch, as it is better equipped than some other bases to take on the additional personnel.

“That makes Leuchars all the more suitable if the move is to happen sooner than planned.”

It is better equipped than some other bases to take on the additional personnel.”

Last year, we revealed that emails released under freedom of information laws had confirmed that the “planning assumption” at the Ministry of Defence has been that 3 SCOTS would switch to the Fife base.

However, ministers also appeared to be questioning the move.

Kinloss Barracks in Moray.

In one memo, officials were asked to answer a series of questions on the future of Fort George and The Black Watch on behalf of “Min(DP)”, thought to be the minister for defence procurement, who at the time was Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Memos

The e-mail said: “Is this planning assumption still valid: And were there any considerations to move 3 SCOTS to Kinloss Barracks?

“Could 3 SCOTS move to Kinloss Barracks?”

Kinloss closed as an RAF base in 2012 and was turned into an Army barracks in the same year following the arrival of the 39 Engineer Regiment, but much of the huge estate is unused today.

Army chiefs said in the email, part of which was redacted, the planning assumption of a move to Leuchars remained “valid”.

However, it has recently been reported that the 39 Engineer Regiment could leave Kinloss for a new base in England.

Wendy Chamberlain MP.

Ms Chamberlain, the North East Fife MP, said: “Leuchars is the natural choice and would allow the Black Watch to return to its historic home and traditional recruiting ground.

“The base’s facilities are more modern than elsewhere and housing the regiment would create an important hub for the army in Scotland.

“It would also bring a welcome boost to Fife’s local economy, the knock-on effects for local businesses and job creation in the area will be significant and I would be keen to see that the area gets the proper investment in local infrastructure to support the new families.”

 

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