Royal Marines

Royal Marines Bases Among UK Military Sites To Remain Open

Video: Laura Makin-Isherwood reports from RMB Chivenor.

Plans to close and sell five UK military facilities, including Royal Marines bases, have been abandoned by the Government.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood made the announcement on the bases in a statement to MPs on Thursday, with the status of 33 bases changing.

Norton Manor Camp, Condor Airfield and Royal Marines Chivenor will no longer be closed, with RAF Molesworth,  MOD Woodbridge (Rock Barracks) also being kept open.

Mr Ellwood also said the closure of HMS Sultan, the home of the Defence School of Marine Engineering and the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School, will "now be delayed".

The minister said a further five sites - Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, Venning Barracks, RAF Henlow, Chilwell Station and RAF Halton - will be part of a "phased withdrawal and disposal".

Mr Ellwood revealed that a further three sites had since been disposed of to add to the original nine he announced in July 2018.

They are Defence Infrastructure Organisation Aldershot, Fitzwygram House - otherwise known as the Royal Army Veterinary Corps Centre in Hampshire - and the Joint Supply Chain Services in Longmoor.

Royal Marines Barracks Chivenor (Picture: PA).
Royal Marines Barracks Chivenor (Picture: PA).

Chivenor, formerly a Royal Air Force station, will remain as home to the Commando Logistics Regiment and 24 Commando Royal Engineers.

Norton Manor Camp will remain home to 40 Commando Royal Marines.

Mr Ellwood finished by saying the objective has been to "strike the right balance between working with the community, achieving value for money for the taxpayer and making sure our Armed Forces have what they require to protect our people".

"I believe our Defence Estates Optimisation Programme is getting that balance right and that we are on track to create the world-class bases our nation needs," he said.

In response, Labour's shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith wanted to make sure the closures would not effect recruitment, "particularly for reservists who obviously rely on facilities being within a reasonable travelling distance of where they live".

Royal Marines 40 Commando training in Norway.
Royal Marines 40 Commando training in Norway.

Mr Ellwood said the issue is "on the forefront of our mind" when making these decisions, adding he did not want to lose reservists and cadets because of this process.

He also pledged the 3 Commando Brigade would remain in Plymouth after fears the unit could be moved outwith the city when it leaves its "spiritual home" at Stonehouse Barracks.

The closures were originally announced in November 2016, as part of the government’s 'better defence estate' plan, which identified 56 defence sites to be vacated and sold.

Video: James Hirst looks at the Government's announcement of delays to the closure and sale of other military bases.

At the time, then-Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon told Forces News all decisions had been taken on the basis of military advice and that the majority of funds generated from the sales would go towards new and modern accommodation.

The plan was to cluster the Royal Marines at Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth and across the River Tamar at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint.

It was part of an overall strategy designed to bring military jobs and families into more urban areas, in part to help forces wives and husbands looking for their own employment.

However, local opposition to the Chivenor and Norton Manor has been strong, and local MPs have repeatedly pushed parliament for reprieves.

Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood (Picture: MOD).
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood (Picture: MOD).

In January, Tobias Ellwood told MPs that after the 2016 Basing Review "feasibility work" had revealed that "the original plan needs further technical and affordability assessments".

Mr Ellwood has now told parliament that there are updated plans for a total of 33 sites.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "The defence estate is the rock around which our Armed Forces revolve and it is vital we bring it into the 21st century.

"We have already committed £4 billion to optimise our military sites and today's update will ensure our estate continues to fulfil our needs and support our people for the next five years."

Gavin Williamson in arctic training with the Royal Marines (Picture: 40 Commando Royal Marines Twitter).
Gavin Williamson in arctic training with the Royal Marines (Picture: 40 Commando Royal Marines/Twitter).

Thursday's announcement is accompanied by the confirmation that £1.5 billion will be invested across the country over the next five years to ensure that the estate meets both military requirements and the high standards required to house and support service personnel and their families.

It is part of the £4 billion committed in 2016 in the better defence estates strategy to improve and upgrade defence sites.