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Super Garrisons

Volume 488: debated on Monday 23 February 2009

6. What progress has been made on the evaluation of policy options for super garrisons; and if he will make a statement. (257885)

Four super garrisons will be established in Aldershot, the east of England, Yorkshire and Salisbury plain. Those will all form by April 2009, and the Northern Ireland super garrison by April 2010.

All those phase 1 super garrisons have been subject to major rebuild programmes, but their development goes beyond infrastructure. They will provide a sustainable military community better integrated with the local civilian community and the local civilian authorities. These will be places where people will want to work and to live.

I thank the Minister for that answer. We have quite a large military footprint in Oxfordshire—Bicester, Benson, Abingdon—and it would be fair to say that Oxford would very much welcome, in due course, being considered for super garrison status, but those things require planning and lead-in time. Will the Minister assure the House that there will be long discussions and lead-in time with local authorities to make quite sure that we can get the best out of the potential for super garrisons for the military and for communities such as Oxfordshire?

The hon. Gentleman has been a champion of the garrison at Bicester for a long time. While I do not think that there is the potential for a super garrison in that location, there are possible synergies in respect of other defence capability moving into the area; of course, we will be considering that. Should we consider it further, there will be full consultation not only with him, but with the relevant local authorities in so doing.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he is satisfied that the garrison of our armed forces in this country broadly reflects where they are recruited from?

It can never do that in its entirety. The garrison in this country reflects historic decisions that have been made and facilities that have been located in different parts of the country. Of course it would be sensible, to the degree that it is practical, to align the garrison of the Army in Great Britain with the locations in which its members are recruited, and we should try to do that. However, we cannot simply change our footprint and an extensive estate that has existed for a long time.

I am grateful to the Minister for writing to invite me to see progress at Andover in relation to the proposed transfer of UK Land Command to the site. He will, however, be aware of the enormous changes and pressures affecting the community in south Wiltshire as a result of the super-garrison proposals, and also the quite proper expansion of the work being done in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. Can he assure me that planning will take place in close association with the new Wiltshire council, which will come into being shortly, and that in implementing this enormous investment programme, he will not neglect the existing married quarters, which remain sub-standard for so many of our military personnel and their dependants?

I am told that there is a good relationship with the local authority, but if the hon. Gentleman has evidence to the contrary I shall be only too happy to listen to him and ensure that we put things right. He has expressed his concern about some of the changes for some time, and I should also be more than happy to talk to him privately, as well as in the Chamber, about those issues.

There has been substantial investment in both single and married quarters over time, but the hon. Gentleman knows that we live with a legacy of neglect that goes back many decades.

The Government’s super-garrison initiative offers them an opportunity to do something about the shameful accommodation that many of our troops have had to put up with for far too long. However, servicemen and women will note that defence is conspicuously absent from the Government’s programme for bringing forward capital expenditure and that defence projects are being delayed or cancelled, and they will draw their own conclusions on where they lie in the Government’s scheme of priorities. Why have Ministers decided not to follow the example of other countries that are including defence projects in their fiscal stimulus packages?

The hon. Gentleman has raised these issues in a manner that is not acceptable. There has been substantial investment in the estate over a long period, and the legacy that we were left by the Government whom he supported was truly outrageous. He needs to remember the Annington Homes deal, which left us with a legacy on family living accommodation that was an absolute scandal before the 1997 election. None of that can be solved immediately; it has to be solved over time, and it is being solved. Many thousands of homes have been brought up to standard, including both service family and single accommodation.