James at The Springfields Academy
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
To many people the words 'RAF Lyneham' and 'Wootton Bassett' are these days too redolent of the sad 'Repatriation' ceremonies as the good people of the town pay their last respects to our fallen troops.
And what a wonderful job they have done for three or four years now standing proxy for the grief of the Nation, standing as they do and bowing their heads for a couple of minutes, often twice a week, and in all weathers.
Well that will all come to an end in August this year when the Hercules fleet is transferred to RAF Brize Norton preparatory to closing the air base by December 2012.
Many of us have fought tooth and nail against the closure as being bad not only for the local area (an estimated 3400 jobs are dependent on the RAF), but also bad for the defence of the Realm.
After the move all of our Air Transport eggs – passengers, fuel, air cargo of all kinds – will be in the single basket of Brize Norton, vulnerable as it will be to poor weather as well as enemy attack. But people who are no doubt cleverer than we are have overruled our objections, and the people of the local area will say a sad 'farewell' to the RAF after the best part of 100 years in the area.
So what happens next? Well, there are a couple of commercial concerns having a look at the vacated site, and I will be doing all I can to help and support their interest. The local economy demands it. But alongside that, we were much encouraged by the announcement as part of last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review that we were to bring up to 15,000 of our troops home from Germany, and that redundant RAF bases would very probably be converted for their use.
Well where could be more appropriate than Lyneham? Close to the massive Salisbury Plain Training Area, in the footprint of the new Supergarrison based at Tidworth, easy access to Welsh training areas; offering 1,000 acres inside a 14 km wire, massive hangars and hard standing, altogether 2000 bedspaces and houses; every training facility you could possibly want. It's tailor-made for perhaps a multi-role Brigade, perhaps a logistics operation, possibly co-locating smaller units from remoter parts of the countryside.
It really has got everything the army could want, and people locally are campaigning hard to try to persuade the MoD of it. That's why I have called a 1.5 hour debate in Westminster Hall – as part of a wider effort to secure the 3400 jobs and £90m per annum which depend on Lyneham; an effort which will also greatly help the defence of the Realm. I very much hope that the government will listen carefully to my arguments.
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