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Kinloss Barracks saved from the axe but Fort George loses Black Watch early

The main entrance to Kinloss Barracks. Picture by Gordon Lennox 26/08/2016

Military chiefs have pledged to expand Kinloss Barracks in Moray – but the Black Watch battalion is set to leave Fort George earlier than expected.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Thursday it intended to restructure the Army, including increasing the number of units based north of the border from six to seven.

The shake-up includes reversing closure plans for Glencorse Barracks, near Edinburgh, and ensuring Kinloss in Moray and Leuchars in Fife both continue to grow.

MoD documents outlined how the Black Watch will leave Fort George barracks in 2029 and relocate to Leuchars.

Such a move would mean the historic barracks near Inverness would effectively close three years earlier than planned, and the famous Black Watch would return closer to its traditional recruiting ground, as local campaigners have long hoped.

Also known as 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), the Black Watch would become part of The 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade.

defence force

The MoD said the brigade would draw on personnel and expertise from across the Army, to build the capacity of allied and partner nations.

Routinely deployed around the world, security force assistance units contribute to conflict prevention and resilience at an early stage.

UK Government sources indicated that a military presence would remain at Fort George until 2032, after the Black Watch departs.

What happens to Fort George?

Uncertainty has been surrounding the future of Fort George since it was reported last month the Army wanted to speed up plans to withdraw from the base near Ardersier, as well as the Glencorse and Redford barracks in the Edinburgh area.

After a long campaign to save the 250-year-old base, it was announced in 2016 that Fort George would be surplus to Army requirements.

Its closure as an active barracks was pushed back to 2032, however, in order to let the area prepare for the economic and social blow to the community.

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson recently wrote to UK defence ministers warning them not to break their “firm promise” to keep the barracks open until 2032.

Last year, we revealed private memos which showed that one MoD official speculated that Fort George would “probably lend itself to being subdivided into a hotel and serviced apartments aimed at the American/Asian market which could link in very easily to Inverness Airport and the Castle Stuart golf course plus other local attractions such as Brodie Castle and the distillery trail”.

Kinloss Barracks expanding

The future of Kinloss Barracks had appeared in doubt after it was reported the 39 Engineer Regiment would move to England.

However, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the unit would remain in Moray, and the MoD has said that it would now be joined by an additional “sub unit”.

Ben Wallace with Black Watch soldiers at Fort George.

The UK Government said its “Future Soldier” plans would see £355 million of investment in the Army estate in Scotland.

A new Ranger Regiment would be established, including The Royal Scots Borderers (1SCOTS).

The Scots Dragoon Guards will remain as a Light Cavalry Regiment based out of Leuchars.

Mr Wallace said the overall restructure would “transform the Army into a more agile, integrated, lethal, expeditionary force”.

In the Commons, he said: “On Scottish units and basing, look, it has never been a secret since March that the overall size of the Army is shrinking.

“The proportion of the Army in Scotland is going up from 5.1% of regulars to 5.5% of regulars.

“However the Army is just not part of the Armed Forces alone. There will be a net increase of approximately 600 regular personnel in Scotland.

I was determined to still have the Army in the Highlands.”

– Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary

“We have moved HMS Dolphin from Portsmouth up to Clyde for the training of submariners. There will be more Navy personnel. There will be more RAF personnel up in Lossiemouth when I base the E7 early warning radar planes up there.

“And I think that means that overall there is an increase. If you add that all together with all the elements of the reserves, and the extras, it’s about 14,500 forces of regulars and reserves that will be based in Scotland. I think that is a significant amount.

“And as a Scot, and a member of a Scottish regiment, what is also pleasing is that the saving of Glencorse will be a good thing for Scotland.

“The expansion of RAF Leuchars for another military base will be a good thing.

“I was determined to still have the Army in the Highlands, so we will see at Kinloss, the Royal Engineers will still remain there, and of course there is extra room, it’s a pretty large base, should we seek to put any more forces.”

SNP Moray MSP Richard Lochhead at the entrance to Kinloss Barracks.

Richard Lochhead, the SNP MSP for Moray, said: “I welcome the defence secretary’s confirmation that Kinloss Barracks is secure following the Ministry of Defence’s latest review.

“It has been an uncertain time and I am relieved that it’s been recognised that any further closures in Moray would be a step too far and I strongly commend the community for getting that message across.

“I note that the defence secretary commented that Kinloss will be boosted and will look forward to hearing more detail in due course.”

Claire Feaver, a Conservative councillor who has Kinloss Barracks in her ward, said: “I am delighted to hear that the defence secretary has made this commitment to Kinloss and has spoken of his determination to maintain an army presence in the north of Scotland.

“Forres and the surrounding area has a proud and continuing military tradition, with a large forces community,  and I know that local people will be very pleased.

“Let’s hope that  politicians like Richard Lochhead learn a lesson from this and, in future, desist from scare-mongering on the basis of what were obviously ill-founded rumours.”