NEARLY a century of RAF involvement in north east Fife is to come to an end after it was announced Leuchars will be handed over to the army.
Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox confirmed on Monday that the historic air base will be turned into an army barracks, housing 1300 troops returning from Germany.
Typhoon fighter jets from Leuchars will move to RAF Lossiemouth in 2013, with army personnel to move in at a later date.
Dr Fox told the House of Commons: “The security of the nation and the requirements of defence were paramount but we have also considered the impact of changes on local communities and service personnel and their families.”
He said he was “very conscious” of the uncertainty the decision would create for staff at Leuchars.
North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell branded the move “strategically inept”, while Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy described Dr Fox’s 10-minute speech as a “shabby” way to treat the armed forces and said there would be “fury” in Fife.
Rod Campbell MSP, who represents North East Fife at Holyrood, said: “This is a dark day for Fife as the UK Government presides over the end of the 100 year presence at aviation at Leuchars.
“Coming just days after the UK Government said that it would shut Fife Ness coastguard station, my constituency is paying a high price for the policies of the Liberal-Tory coalition.”
The announcement brings to an end months of campaigning and speculation over the base.
Supporters fought tirelessly in a bid to convince ministers to retain an RAF presence in north east Fife amid a national defence shake-up.
Their campaign to save Leuchars centred on its ideal strategic position for defending the airspace of the northern half of the UK, as well as its economic importance to Fife.
The battle eventually came down to a straight fight between Leuchars and Lossiemouth to house Scotland’s only remaining RAF base, following the closure of Kinloss.
RAF Leuchars is home to almost 1400 service personnel, over 200 civilian staff, and their families.
A Fife Council study found that the base contributes £60 million annually to the local economy, including income generated from the famous Leuchars Airshow.
More than £20 million was spent upgrading Leuchars’ runway to accommodate the Typhoon fleet.
Alan Russell, chairman of Fife Chamber of Commerce, said: “It seems that Fife has lost the fight to retain its air base, but the announcement that the site will be converted to an army barracks with a similar number of military personnel based there could lessen the blow of a complete closure.
“Although this is a sad day for RAF Leuchars and its staff, the shift in focus to an army barracks is a welcome development for the Fife economy.”
Full report and reaction in this Friday’s Fife Herald and St Andrews Citizen.