Woodbridge reacts after Ministry of Defence reveals plans to close Rock Barracks

PUBLISHED: 21:33 07 November 2016 | UPDATED: 22:42 07 November 2016

Rock Barracks, Woodbridge

Rock Barracks, Woodbridge

Closing Rock Barracks would be “a disaster” for Woodbridge, community leaders have said in the wake of shock proposals revealed in Parliament tonight.

Home to the 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, the site is among a number of army bases which could be closed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as part of its strategic review.

Defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon told the House of Commons about the plans today – and now the MoD has confirmed both the barracks and airfield are earmarked for closure by 2027.

Rock Barracks has more than 500 personnel and many live with their families – so the impact on the local economy could be serious.

Woodbridge Airfield, which is next to the barracks and used by the Wattisham-based Army Air Corps for training exercises, will also be closed.

An MoD spokesman said last night: “The department has continually reviewed how the defence estate is used, considering whether capabilities can be relocated to other areas to create clusters of sites with similar output.

“After much consideration it has been decided that the roles carried out at MoD Woodbridge would be better located elsewhere.

“Civilian staff whose posts are considered surplus as a consequence of the disbandment and disposal of sites will be placed in the Department’s redeployment pool. There will be formal consultation with Trades Unions well in advance of any closure.

“The local authority has been made aware of the potential for disposal of the site. There is scope for mixed use of the site, combining housing and commercial use. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation will work closely with the local authority and other interested parties to consider the best possible future uses for the site. Closing defence establishments can often provide new opportunities for civilian re-use and development subject to achievement of planning permission.”

A number of community leaders have spoken out against the proposals, which have been branded “disturbing” by Woodbridge mayor Stephen Attwell.

“This is disturbing news, to say the least,” he said. “The soldiers at Rock Barracks have the freedom of the town and we are very lucky to have them.

“They get involved in a number of charity events and in particular the parade, it will be very sad if we have to lose them. It will also be bad news for the economy in this part of Suffolk, it’s such a shame.”

Woodbridge Royal British Legion secretary Steve Lockwood said closing the regiment – established 10 years ago on the former USAF Woodbridge air base – would be a “disaster” for the town.

He said: “This comes as a massive shock, especially when you consider Remembrance Sunday coming this week it’s taken me aback quite a bit.

“The soldiers are a vital part of our community and are always getting involved in events – they will be deeply missed here.

He added: “It is going to be a disaster for Woodbridge.”

East Suffolk politicians said they felt “dismayed” and “disappointed” upon hearing the news.

Suffolk Coastal District Council leader Ray Herring said: “We are shocked and dismayed by this news. The servicemen and women, and their families, are an integral part of our community.

“They have been good neighbours and will be greatly missed, if this closure goes ahead.

“We are disappointed that the MoD is thinking of closing the base when they have recently invested tens of millions of pounds in upgrading the facilities at the barracks.

“If there is no re-use by Government, we will look to minimise the impact on the local economy, while exploring the potential opportunities for housing and facilities through the planning process.

“At this stage, we have no information on the timeline for closure or about any long-term plans for the site, but we would welcome an early dialogue on any proposed developments.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey said she wanted to know more about the plans.

“I want to look at the detail of what is being proposed and the reasons for this closure as I know how much local people have really embraced 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment who are based there,” she said.

“Since the regiment was re-formed in 2003, they have played an invaluable part of our national defence force being on a constant state of high readiness in preparation for deployment anywhere in the world.

“They have played an important part in local life in Woodbridge and will be missed if the base does close.”

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