MoD to sell off three sites in NI as part of major land review

Ballykinler base near Downpatrick
Ballykinler base near Downpatrick

Three military sites in Northern Ireland are to be sold off by the Ministry of Defence.

Abercorn Barracks, Kinnegar Logistic Base and Volunteer Gliding School at Newtownards airfield – all in Co Down – are among more than 56 sites to be shut across the UK.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the defence estate was too big and costly to run, with closures paving the way for a more modern military.

The remaining operations at the three local sites will be centred on larger centres of population.

North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne the decision to close Kinnegar base marks the end of an era, but also presents a “fresh opportunity”.

He added: “Kinnegar Base in Holywood was once a thriving hub of activity employing up to one thousand civilian staff, which provided much needed support to the Army during the darkest days of the troubles.

“As a former MoD employee I know first hand the valuable work which went on within Kinnegar and I would like to pay tribute to the Army and civilians who worked at the base for many years.

“Kinnegar base was not just a place of employment, it was a large part of local community life where people lived and worked together.

“The decision to close Kinnegar base marks the end of an era, but also presents a fresh opportunity for the potential development of a business park or industrial opportunity.

“I will be working with the Economy Minister and Invest NI to see if it might be possible to secure the future of the site, which is in such a prime location for much needed job creation opportunities for the people of North Down.”

Sir Michael told the House of Commons: “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 to promote our prosperity.”

Sir Michael said the changes would mean the Royal Navy remained focused on port bases and naval stations.

MPs heard that surface ships would be based in Portsmouth and Devonport, with all the United Kingdom’s submarines based on the Clyde.

There will be a specialist amphibious centre in the South West, based around Devonport, with helicopters based at Yeovilton and Culdrose.

Sir Michael added the army would have “specialised infantry” at Aldershot, mechanised wheel capability in Catterick, air assault forces in Colchester, armoured vehicle units around Salisbury Plain, medical services in the West Midlands and hubs of light infantry battalions in London, Edinburgh, Lisburn, St Athan, Blackpool and Cottesmore.

In the RAF, combat units would remain in Coningsby, Marham and Lossiemouth, with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services remaining in Waddington.

Air transport will be based at Brize Norton, force protection will be based at Honington, and support enablers would be based at Wittering and Leeming.

In Scotland, eight sites will be released over the next 15 years, Sir Michael said.

He said investment in specialised centres would focus on Lossiemouth, Faslane and Leuchars.

“Contrary to some speculation and unnecessary scaremongering, Kinloss will be retained,” added Sir Michael.

In Wales, the estate will be brought together into “capability clusters”, Sir Michael said, with a specialist light infantry centre at St Athan.

In Northern Ireland, three sites will be released and the remaining operations will be centred on larger centres of population, he added.

Sir Michael said: “As we implement these plans, we will seek to minimise any disruption to the armed forces, civilians and their families, and to give as much notice as possible over planned redeployments.

“By releasing sites we no longer need, we can help build the houses we do need.

“I can confirm that the MoD now has firm plans to achieve its target to release sufficient lands to build up to 55,000 houses in this Parliament.”

Last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) outlined the MoD’s aim to reduce the size of its estate by 30% before 2040.

The MoD had previously announced the closure of 35 sites, freeing up enough land for up to 39,000 new homes and potentially generating around £930 million.