Fear that Leuchars will be left in limbo

TS EN 18/07/2011. LEUCHARS, FIFE: The front gate of RAF Leuchars air base in Fife. The UK Coalition Government has announced the withdrawal of the RAF from Leuchars as part of cuts in defence spending.

TS EN 18/07/2011. LEUCHARS, FIFE: The front gate of RAF Leuchars air base in Fife. The UK Coalition Government has announced the withdrawal of the RAF from Leuchars as part of cuts in defence spending.

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WITH the battle to save RAF Leuchars lost, campaigners have turned their attention to making sure its transition to an army base is made as swiftly as possible.

Fears have been mounting that a ‘fallow’ period during the handover could have devastating consequences for local businesses and schools.

In Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox’s written statement to Parliament on the basing review, he said Typhoon fighter jets from Leuchars would start moving to Lossiemouth in 2013.

But the planned army headquarters and two units with a total of 1300 troops will only move into north east Fife between 2014 and 2017.

Carroll Finnie, vice-chair of the Leuchars task force, urged Dr Fox to soften the economic blow by making sure the base is transferred to the army without delay.

She said: “Although we’ve resigned ourselves to what has happened, we’re now pushing for as short a transition period as possible.

“We’re looking ahead to the army moving in, but we need firm details of the handover and we want to secure the best possible deal for Fife. At the moment we’re in limbo.”

Mrs Finnie also called on Dr Fox to visit the village to explain in person his decision to end 100 years of aviation history at the base.

She said: “We’re very keen to meet the Defence Secretary to hear his reasons for moving the RAF out of Leuchars.

DETAILS

“We still feel there was no strategic reason for doing so — and it was supposed to have been a strategic defence review.

“The task force has written to Dr Fox asking him to visit Leuchars to explain his decision in person and give us more details of the handover.”

North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell has also written to Dr Fox to express his concern at the prospect of a “strategic gap” between base uses.

He said: “Of most particular concern is the very real danger of strategic gap.

“What assurances can you give that following the draw-down of the Typhoon force the base will transfer to army use without significant delay?

“Suggestions are that the Typhoon force will transfer to RAF Lossiemouth in 2013, yet the planned elements of the new army brigade will only arrive at Leuchars in 2015 or possibly 2016.”

He went on: “Such a gap, when the base is effectively unoccupied, will have a much greater effect on the local community than the transfer of the base from the RAF to the army.

“Schools, local businesses, hotels and shops all rely upon the base as you might expect.

“Any significant delay in transition of roles for the base could well have a devastating effect.”

Sir Menzies has also raised concerns that the reported economic benefits of moving the army to Fife may have been exaggerated.

He highlighted Ministry of Defence figures suggesting a battalion of 550 men would contribute £16 million annually to the local economy.

That would mean the 1300 troops set to move into Leuchars would generate less than £40 million for the region — a shortfall of over £20 million on the amount currently contributed each year by the RAF base.