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Defence Estate Optimisation Programme

Volume 691: debated on Monday 15 March 2021

The defence estate optimisation portfolio is a 25-year multibillion-pound investment in modernising MOD basing. It provides resilience and ensures that our service personnel can train in centres of excellence alongside those beside whom they will fight. We routinely review and assess the programme in the light of evolving requirements, including the contents of the integrated review. However, the fundamental drivers of the programme are unlikely to change.

The decision to site the entire Army presence in the north-west at Weeton barracks, putting all our eggs in one basket, will damage the operational and recruitment footprint of the Army in the north-west. Were the Government to retain the Dale barracks in Chester, that would provide easy access to the southern part of the north-west, the north part of the midlands and north Wales, so will the Government please look again at the decision to sell off the Dale barracks and let them retain their historic role in the City of Chester?

The hon. Gentleman has in the past spoken with passion about the retention of Dale barracks, and he does so again. We continue to speak to local stakeholders about alternative uses for the site, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that no disposal will take place before 2027 at the earliest. I also assure him that the armed forces will continue to be able to provide support to the north-west and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom.

What steps has the Ministry of Defence taken to ensure the sound financial sustainability of the defence estate, given that the National Audit Office found in 2016 that the estate would have an £8.5 billion funding shortfall over the next 30 years? A series of National Audit Office reports have shown that the defence estate faces a serious shortfall in investment. It is clear that there is a direct link between poor infrastructure and increasing risk to military effectiveness. What steps has the Minister taken to reverse this decline?

I am pleased to reassure the hon. Gentleman that £18 million a year is spent on single-living accommodation. Additional funding has been provided through the £200 million package announced in July last year, and the frontline commands intend to invest £1.5 billion in new build and upgrade programmes to accommodation over the next 12 years. It is an issue that we are alive to and on which we focus. It is not within the top 12 reasons why people leave the Army, as stated in the surveys, but it is incredibly important. We wish to look after the welfare of all the people who serve defence. I do not wish to say anything further about future funding, because that will be covered in announcements in due course, but we take the issue very seriously.