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Closure of MoD sites a chance to build homes and businesses, Stormont told

By Steven Alexander

Published 08/11/2016

The Executive has been urged to seize the opportunity offered by the closure of three military sites in Northern Ireland.

Across the UK, 56 Ministry of Defence sites are to close, including the historic Fort George in Scotland and Brecon Barracks in Wales, under a review of the military estate.

The sites earmarked for closure in Co Down are Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler; Kinnegar Logistics Base, Holywood; and the Volunteer Gliding School at Newtownards Airfield.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon told the Commons that the remaining operations in Northern Ireland will be centred on larger centres of population. He said the UK's military estate is too big and costly to run, and releasing the land could enable the building of up to 55,000 new homes.

The plans are part of the Government's Defence Review that aims to cut thousands of civilian posts under huge budget cuts.

North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne said: "Kinnegar Base in Holywood had been a thriving hub of activity employing up to 1,000 civilian staff, which provided much needed support to the Army during the darkest days of the Troubles.

"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," he said.

"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."

His DUP colleague, Strangford MP Jim Shannon, criticised the Abercorn Barracks sell-off.

"It would be a rather backwards step because I think they should be retaining the accommodation for use as social housing," he told the BBC.

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said there was a case for Abercorn to be converted to an All-Island Emergency Services Training Centre, and to convert the 199 homes currently on site to social and affordable housing.

The MoD said recently it was considering knocking the houses down.

However, Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan described the plans "a retrograde step".

The former Army officer added that while the end of the Troubles had seen bases decommissioned as part of the normalisation process, "it is essential that the military retain capacity in Northern Ireland as a contingency measure, and with that in mind, I fear that the loss of Kinnegar and Abercorn in particular are - to use a military term - a bridge too far".

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