THE Borders is definitely being considered as one possible location for a new ‘super barracks’ army training facility to house some of the 20,000 British soldiers due to be brought home from Germany.
A reliable and highly placed source confirmed to TheSouthern yesterday that Whitehall mandarins were actively looking at the Borders as an option, based on its proximity to Edinburgh.
“But there is a long way to go before things are finalised in terms of locations,” the source told us.
There has been widespread speculation this week over the troop plans, due to be officially revealed by Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox, next month.
It follows a report in Tuesday’s issue of The Times which quoted its own un-named defence source, as saying the Borders was in the frame to house a multi-role mobile brigade of 6,000 soldiers after last year’s decision by the UK government to bring all the British troops home from Germany.
But even just the possibility of a major new training facility in the Borders was welcomed with open arms by Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker.
He told us: “I was not aware the MoD may have been considering the Borders for an army base. However, I would very much welcome an army base in the region as it is widely recognised that military establishments bring great economic benefit to the local area.
“I am also aware that Borderers would welcome our troops and support them being stationed in our region.
“The Borders would make an excellent place for a military base and there would be a lot of benefit to both the military and a our region if such a development was to come to fruition.”
And local MSP John Lamont added: “This could be a very significant development for the Borders, as a new base would bring considerable investment to the region and provide a major boost to local businesses.
“However, it is important that a suitable site is found that recognises the needs of local communities as well as the MOD.”
Scottish Secretary and local MP Michael Moore says he has taken a direct interest in this issue on account of both his roles as a member of the UK government and an MP.
“Because of the security challenges facing the UK, there is a whole range of different options to be considered. National security has to be the absolute starting point but clearly there are aspects of this which will be of concern for communities across Scotland,” he said.
But, while not ruling the Borders out of contention, an MoD spokesperson said there were more likely parts of Scotland for a base.
“The Scottish Government has been helping us with this but no decisions have yet been made and we are looking across the whole of Scotland.
“No areas have been ruled out but there are more likely areas than the Borders – places where there are bigger areas of land, less roads and more rural locations,” she said.
And many military experts and political commentators believe some of these returning troops are more likely to be housed at RAF Kinloss – former home of the country’s now-scrapped Nimrod surveillance aircraft fleet – or either the fast jet bases at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray or RAF Leuchars in Fife.
This would not just be for economic reasons – because of existing facilities – but also political considerations. If RAF Lossiemouth were to close, then with the loss of RAF Kinloss, Moray will have suffered a double blow to its local economy and thousands of returning squaddies could well be seen as the quid pro quo.
Brigadier Allan Alstead, a retired former commanding officer of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, said some army representation in the Borders would be welcome.
“But they may only be thinking of a training area,” he added.
“I agree they would fill up any empty former RAF bases first for economic reasons and to support those local communities.”
Among the factors that could favour the Borders is the fact the region has better road connections than Moray and the close proximity to the army’s firing ranges at Otterburn in Northumberland should the new mobile brigade include heavy armour such as the 62-ton Challenger tanks of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.