IMPACT on the environment has been among the concerns expressed after last week’s revelation that the Borders is among a number of Scottish regions being considered as the location for a major army base housing a multi-role mobile brigade of 6,000 troops.
The military training complex would cater for some of the 20,000 British troops due to be brought home from Germany over the next few years.
While the potential economic boost to the Borders would be welcome according to many, including Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker, there are serious concerns about the impact a base would have on the environment and landscape of the Southern Uplands.
Stuart Crawford runs a consultancy firm specialising in Scottish public affairs, security issues, and media communications. For 20 years he was an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment and has considerable experience of the operation of armoured vehicle training areas such as Salisbury Plain and Soltau in Germany.
A former junior defence spokesman for the SNP, he says that while any investment in infrastructure would be welcome in the south of Scotland, such a scheme does not come without cost.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch – even when it comes to military plans,” Mr Crawford told The Southern. “If you have ever seen Salisbury Plain close up, you will know that it’s not all good news.
“Troops on training areas inevitably mean noise and dust, pollution of both the human and technological kind, and it is likely to require a considerable area – Salisbury Plain encompasses 150 square miles.
“There will be nothing subtle or particularly eco-friendly in columns of armoured vehicles stravaiging across the Southern Uplands, for example.
“You would need a big piece of real estate for this to be feasible, big enough for a battle group of armoured vehicles, including Challenger 2 tanks, to train on.”
Mr Crawford pointed out that Salisbury Plain had become a remarkable haven for certain species of flora and fauna, due to the restrictions on public access.
“However, other parts of have been reduced to not much more than dust thanks to over 70 years of use by the army,” he added.
Pip Tabor, project manager for the Southern Upland Partnership said they would look at any definite proposals with interest. He told us: “We welcome a potential boost to the Borders economy, but we must be certain that such a huge development is sensitive to the environment and landscape which sustains so much of our economy.
“An army barracks and a training area for 6.000 troops could be a huge blot on the landscape, cut off a large area from public access, leave unexploded – and possibly toxic – ordnance for decades to come, and create significant noise pollution, depending on what the troops are being trained in –presumably it will involve firing ranges.
“We understand that army bases attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible, so impact on the local economy could be limited. Sealing a large area off from the public may, however, have conservation benefits.”
However, Mr Tabor says people should closely examine the impact of the military training facilities in Kirkcudbright, where the Dundrennan army range has existed for decades and been very controversial due to firing of depleted uranium shells.
Mr Tabor added: “We are not sure about the level of local economic benefit.
“We believe the army has used local contractors to a certain extent and quite a few army people have retired to Kirkcudbright.
“The Dundrennan range is very negative from the access and tourism point of view – in effect a considerable stretch of attractive coast has been sterilised.
“There is also a question about why the army would base themselves here when there is an existing training ground across the border in Northumberland and an existing complex and range in south west Scotland.”