MP calls for review of decision to close RAF Leuchars ‘

Pic Greg Macvean, 25/06/2011, Armed Forces Day in Edinburgh with Prince Charles giving the royal salute...'Liam Fox, David Cameron, Alex Salmond
Pic Greg Macvean, 25/06/2011, Armed Forces Day in Edinburgh with Prince Charles giving the royal salute...'Liam Fox, David Cameron, Alex Salmond

NORTH East Fife MP, Sir Menzies Campbell, has called on the new Defence Secretary to review the decision to axe RAF Leuchars.

Philip Hammond has taken over the defence brief from Dr Liam Fox, who resigned last Friday over the controversy surrounding his long-time friend Adam Werrity.

Dr Fox quit after admitting he had allowed his personal loyalties and professional responsibilities to become “blurred” over his dealings with Mr Werritty, his former flatmate and self-styled adviser.

Sir Menzies has now written to Mr Hammond, asking him to look again at the review which will result in the RAF leaving its base at Leuchars and the army taking occupancy.

The Liberal Democrat MP said: “Questions are legitimately being raised about the credibility of the MoD’s plans for Scotland and in particular whether they can be adequately financed.

“The new Defence Secretary needs to address these as a matter of urgency.”

In his letter, Sir Menzies said the measures announced under the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) failed “to stand up to scrunity” and Mr Hammond’s appointment was an opportunity for them to be reconsidered.

He told Mr Hammond that the strategic importance of RAF Leuchars “cannot be overstated”.

Sir Menzies went on: “It is believed that the recommendations made at the highest level in the Royal Air Force were for the retention of Leuchars as an RAF base.

“Yet strategic defence considerations appear to have been outweighed by economic considerations.”

In light of Dr Fox’s resignation and the unanswered questions regarding his dealings with various third parties, Leuchars Community Council has voiced concern that decisions made by him under the SDSR may not have been entirely for strategic defence reasons.

Vice-chair of the community council, Mark Sharp, has written to the Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy stating that he, like many other retired RAF personnel in the locality, have failed to understand the rationale of some of the decisions taken as a result of the SDSR.

Mr Sharp said: ”The community of Leuchars, both RAF and civilian, has suffered under Dr Fox’s review.

‘‘He has consistently failed to answer questions put to him by Sir Menzies Campbell MP and ourselves regarding the decision to close RAF Leuchars, and transfer its assets and build up the Typhoon Force at RAF Lossiemouth.

“Fife will suffer the loss of the RAF at Leuchars only for the promised army presence not to be realised.”

“Leuchars has remained the home of Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) North for over 40 years, providing vital air defence for the northern part of the UK owing to its strategic geographical location. Indeed, previous SDSRs have seen fit to retain RAF Leuchars in this role.

“The decision to close RAF Leuchars as an operational station is viewed as a political one, a decision that - by all accounts - goes against the wishes of RAF Chiefs Of Staff.

‘‘There is suspicion that the involvement of Danny Alexander and the SNP colluded to ensure that RAF Lossiemouth would be spared, even though the original choice was to be between there and RAF Marham in Norfolk.”

The community council has asked Mr Murphy to raise a number of specific questions with the MoD on its behalf, including how much money has been spent directly in preparing RAF Leuchars for the arrival of 6 Squadron Typhoons, how much will it cost to ‘destruct’ these services when the RAF leaves Leuchars and how much will it cost to transfer 6 Sqn to Lossiemouth in terms of moving personnel and the preparations at the Morayshire base for the arrival of Typhoon aircraft, as well as any runway modifications/upgrades?

Mr Sharp has also questioned why RAF Lossiemouth is suddenly deemed to be the essential location for QRA(N) when it has been, and currently is, a bomber station, whose previous mission roles included maritime strike and low-level sorties into Soviet airspace.

Meanwhile, chairman of the former North East Fife District Council, Dr Clive Sneddon, has raised concerns that the unofficial activities of Mr Werritty may have extended into discussions on the future of the Fife air base and also the expansion of an army presence in Scotland.

Dr Sneddon told the Citizen: ”Since Adam Werritty had an office in Parliament and was a visitor to the MoD, it is not inconceivable that he had an input into the strange decision by Dr Fox to treat the withdrawal of the British Army of the Rhine as a strategic shift requiring the closure of RAF Leuchars.

“What is conceivable is not necessarily true, but given that no strategically convincing explanation of the closure of Leuchars has yet been forthcoming from the MoD, I call on Dr Fox to state publicly that Adam Werritty has at no point discussed RAF Leuchars with him; has made no submissions to him concerning the building of new quarters for the army in Scotland and has had no input of any sort into the decision to close RAF Leuchars.

”I have suggested before that the Ministry of Defence is not fit for purpose, and I am sure I am not alone in holding this view.

‘‘The hard times we are going through require smart decisions to be made to provide the UK with the cost-effective resource it needs for its defence, and we really do not need unofficial advisers appearing in the MoD.”