IT has been confirmed that Scottish Borders Council is in talks with the government over proposals for the establishment of a new army training range in southern Scotland to cope with some of the thousands of British troops returning from Cold War-era bases in Germany.
Last week it was announced by defence secretary Liam Fox that a new army base was to be constructed at Kirknewton, near Edinburgh, and that the Borders was in the frame for consideration as the site of the training ground that would be needed to accompany the new ‘super barracks’.
Last week, local MP and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore confirmed the region was in the running as the site of the new training area and, this week, SBC leader David Parker, echoed that.
Councillor Parker said: “All I can say at the moment is that the council is aware of what is happening and that we are party to the discussions.”
Mr Moore says, given the topography and geography of the Borders, it is thought the local landscape could provide suitable terrain and training facilities for the different units of the planned new brigade, including armoured vehicles.
“The MoD will be assessing all potential sites in Scotland with input from the Scottish Government and key local bodies such as councils and environmental groups,” said Mr Moore.
“Proper criteria will be set out and assessed and there will be full consultation.
“In the Borders, I want to see the fullest participation in this process when it begins formally.
“I will have further discussions with the MoD when their plans reach an appropriate stage and I will be meeting the council and others to consider the issues in the near future.
“Everything from environmental impact to economic contribution to transport disruption and much else, will need to be considered and I will make sure that it is.
“I believe that if suitable plans are brought forward, people in the Borders will support the needs of the army as they prepare and train for the fast-changing world in which they maintain our security and ensure our safety.”
Gordon Henderson, east of Scotland development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, says a new army training area would potentially be good news for the Borders economy and would mean an even bigger army presence in the region.
“The FSB will be lobbying local politicians and Scottish Borders Council to ensure that the best possible case is put forward for the Borders region and if it is chosen then we will work to ensure that the impact of the new base will be a positive one for local businesses,” said Mr Henderson.
“Clearly change is on the way across the region and although it is sad to see the end of some of our historical military sites and the disruption this will cause to so many families, there are real opportunities on the way for local businesses.
“I hope as many FSB members as possible are in a position to take advantage of these opportunities when they come.”
And there was added speculation this week that the new training area could be located between Lauder and Charterhall.
The information came from what The Scotsman newspaper described as “army insiders” and that an agreement was due to be announced shortly between the MoD and the Scottish Government.
But Colonel Clive Fairweather, a former commanding officer of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and deputy commander of the Special Air Service, explained it was highly unlikely any training area in the Borders would involve live firing exercises, and would probably be an individual manouevre area where tank drivers and commanders could practise their skills.
“I used to be in charge of all this sort of training in Bielefeld and on the surface – and without further info available – all sounds well and good,” explained Colonel Fairweather.
“However, the roads round Kirknewton are narrow and twisty – not at all good for tank transporters – and there is at the moment no suitable railhead in the Borders. So getting there and back could prove a recurring problem.”
Colonel Fairweather believes the best option for Dr Fox and the MoD mandarins would be to base any armour such as tanks at Leuchars and fly the crews to already pre-positioned armoured vehicles at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) near Calgary in Canada – the training programme and schedule which Colonel Fairweather redesigned in the 1980s.