Defence Estate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon The Secretary of State for Defence 5:17 pm, 7th November 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on our strategy for a better defence estate. Our defence estate is where our people work, live and train, where advanced equipment is maintained, and where cutting-edge research is undertaken. It is where major exercises are conducted and major operations are launched. Our estate is vital, but it is also vast. It is almost 2% of the United Kingdom’s land mass—an area almost three times the size of Greater London. Yet while the size and structure of our armed forces have changed to meet different threats, our estate has failed to adapt.

Our estate is too inefficient. It costs £2.5 billion a year to maintain, and 40% of our built assets are more than 50 years old. It too often fails to meet the needs of our armed forces and their families, with capabilities spread across small, remote sites, often far removed from population centres and job opportunities. Last year’s strategic defence and security review committed to increase the defence budget in real terms and to spend £178 billion to create a world class joint force 2025. However, an ambitious joint force needs an estate to match, so today I will set out a long-term strategy to achieve that ambition.

First, we will transform an estate built for previous generations of war-fighting into one that better supports military capability and the needs of our armed forces. It will help deliver joint force 2025 by bringing people and capabilities into new centres of specialism, clustering units closer to their training estates. Since the beginning of this year, I have announced plans to dispose of 35 of our most costly sites. Today, based on advice from the chiefs of staff, I am announcing the release of a further 56 sites by 2040.

I now turn to what this means in practice. The Royal Navy will continue focusing on operating bases and training establishments around port areas and naval stations, with surface ships in Portsmouth and Devonport; all the UK’s submarines on the Clyde; a specialist amphibious centre in the south-west, based around Devonport; and helicopters based at Yeovilton and Culdrose. It means the Army having specialised infantry in Aldershot; mechanised, wheeled capability, including two of our new strike brigades, in Catterick; air assault forces in Colchester; armoured and tracked capability around Salisbury plain; medical services in the west midlands; and hubs of light infantry battalions in London, Edinburgh, Lisburn, St Athan, Blackpool and Cottesmore. It means the RAF building on its centres of specialism, with combat air in Coningsby, Marham and Lossiemouth; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Waddington; air transport at Brize Norton; force protection at Honington; and support enablers at Wittering and Leeming.

Let me turn to the impact on the devolved nations. In Scotland, this strategy will result in investment being concentrated into fewer, better locations. Our proposals will release eight sites over the next 15 years. We will invest in main centres of specialisation: at Lossiemouth, home to one of our three fast-jet squadrons, where the new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and an extra Typhoon squadron will be based; at Faslane where all the Royal Navy’s submarines, including the new Dreadnought class, will be based; and at Leuchars, where the Army will consolidate its regional command. Contrary to some speculation and unnecessary scaremongering, Kinloss will be retained. This comes on top of the substantial investments I have already announced, such as £100 million for the P-8 aircraft at Lossiemouth and, of course, the Type 26 frigate, on which we will cut steel next summer. In Wales, we will release three sites and consolidate the defence estate into capability clusters, with a specialist light infantry centre at St Athan. In Northern Ireland, we are releasing three sites and consolidating our estate in larger centres of population. Full details are set out in the strategy, and I have placed a copy of the document in the Library of the House.

Secondly, this strategy will deliver a better estate for service families. Over the next decade, we will invest £4 billion in improving our infrastructure and modernising our accommodation. By locating our servicemen and women together with capability, we will provide better job opportunities for their partners and more stable schooling for their families, and increase their ability to buy their own home. We have purposely focused on sites that will support recruitment and retention, giving our personnel and their partners greater certainty and confidence to put down roots in local communities. As we implement these plans, we will seek to minimise any disruption to the armed forces, their families and civilians, and give as much notice as possible over planned redeployments.

Finally, a better defence estate will deliver better value for money for taxpayers. By releasing sites we no longer need, we can help build the houses that we do need. I can confirm that the Ministry of Defence now has firm plans to achieve its target to release sufficient land to build up to 55,000 houses in this Parliament. My Department will now work with local authorities, the devolved Administrations and industry, as well as our personnel, to deliver that, supporting construction and infrastructure jobs, and boosting local economies.

In conclusion, this strategy looks ahead to 2040, to provide a better defence estate: an estate that supports a more efficient and effective military capability; an estate that gives our armed forces a world-class base from which to work; and an estate that helps defence keep Britain safe and promote our prosperity. I commend this statement to the House.