Firing Ranges

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9 February 1998.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East 12:00, 9 February 1998

If he will make a statement on the plans announced on 23 January 1998 to reorganise the firing ranges. [26104]

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

The rationalisation of the land ranges operated by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency announced on 23 January is the outcome of the second stage of a review to address the problems of overcapacity and under-utilisation. Subject to consultation with trade unions and MOD customers, the main changes proposed are that Pendine and Shoeburyness ranges would be maintained for access to their unique facilities on a trials campaign only basis, and as much work as possible would be undertaken at Eskmeals.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

Is the Minister aware of the anger and fury of the 200 employees at Shoeburyness who face redundancy following the Minister's letter, which overturned a decision made as recently as March to plan for the closure of Eskmeals—apparently for no reason which we can think of other than that the area is represented by a Cabinet Minister? As Eskmeals is the only range which does not provide facilities that others can provide, what on earth is the reason for retaining it in a declining market when there is a shortage of work? Now that the Minister has decided, for no apparent reason, to keep open the three ranges, would not the best way in which to proceed be to let the market decide and let customers go to ranges that they think are most helpful?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that there is a declining market, which forms the backdrop against which the decision is taken. I consider it slightly unfortunate that he should impugn the professional integrity of officials at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, who gave us the technical advice, based on their evaluation of costs and effectiveness of the various ranges, that that decision should be taken. In spite of representations made to us by hon. Members representing all three constituencies concerned, it would have been slightly perverse of us to overturn that technical advice.

We are of course aware of the impact that the decision will have on other areas. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, we are in discussion with local councils on how best to redevelop the site so that we can return economic activity and regeneration to the area as quickly as possible.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Labour, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

Is the Minister aware that the Pendine facility in my constituency is set to lose 80 per cent. of its work force following the announcement, yet no land is being made available for alternative employment use? Will he assure me that he will supply trade unions and local authorities, which have set up a steering group to try to combat the plan, with all relevant information? Once they have developed an alternative strategy, will he or the Minister for Defence Procurement receive a delegation from that steering group?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence)

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We acknowledge the considerably greater difficulties that Pendine faces, especially due to the substantial amount of unexploded ordnance on that land. I very much welcome the work that is being undertaken by the Pendine steering group and local organisations. We should certainly very much welcome representations and a delegation from them in order that we can explore Pendine's future strategy.