General Election: Candidates challenged on RAF Boulmer

At work in the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) in RAF Boulmer.
At work in the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) in RAF Boulmer.

Amid local rumours over the possible loss of the School of Aerospace Battle Management at RAF Boulmer – or the entire base – we asked the four candidates in the Berwick constituency to share their views.

Addressing the rumours, an RAF Boulmer spokeswoman said: “The Secretary of State’s A Better Defence Estate announcement on November 7, 2016, identified a number of RAF Main Operating Bases for continued development as well as a number of sites for future disposal. Other sites, such as RAF Boulmer, fell into neither of these categories and work is ongoing in relation to the future of these sites.

“No decision has been taken in relation to RAF Boulmer or the future location of the School of Aerospace Battle Management.”

And here’s how the candidates responded to being challenged by an Alnwick elector as to ‘whether or not they will fight to keep this world-class,, leading-edge facility in the North East or simply let it graduate uncontested to the south of the country’.

Labour’s Scott Dickinson said: “RAF Boulmer is incredibly important to the area, it has a long history in this Constituency and provides widespread employment, both military and civilian. It also has widespread economic benefit in Northumberland.

“I always remember going to the base for family fun days when my father was stationed there. The base itself has always played a role within the local community too.

“I hope the rumours are just that and no intention whatsoever from the Government exists to remove the base or facilities within it.

“In terms of the School of Aerospace Battle Management itself within the base, this is a prestigious thing to have in our constituency and young people from all over the country come here to train and be part of the best, I have represented the county council at the Spring Reception on numerous occasions in recent years and always welcomed the opportunity to talk with the RAF personnel about their training and plans in the RAF. I always feel incredibly proud when I am in attendance there.

“It would have a detrimental impact on the county and more specifically in this constituency. I would urge the Government if they do have any plans on the back burner to think again it will come with massive resistance from people here in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency and wider Northumberland. It is an important part of Northumberland and must remain with us.”

Lib Dem Julie Pörksen said: “RAF Boulmer and the many service, civilian and contracted staff who work there make a valuable contribution to our local economy and community.

“Just a few short years ago Alan Beith made the MoD scrap plans to close the base because their sums were wrong. Any proposals to consider closure of the base must be subject to full economic and financial scrutiny because mistakes do happen as we know from the past.

“I hope the MoD remains committed to Boulmer as it would be a real loss to the area if RAF Boulmer were to shut.”

Green Party candidate, Thomas Stewart, said: “It is a common misconception that the Green Party does not support the Armed Forces; we do.

“We are not ashamed of our approach – that avoiding conflict at its origins is always preferable, always less harmful and has better long-term outcomes – but this is combined with a firm belief that it is essential for our country to have an appropriate, flexible and fully-supported military, which can deal with threats if they do arise, and which can provide assistance in shared humanitarian efforts throughout the world.

“Successive governments, including Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers, have continued to deplete the conventional services, while simultaneously shackling the UK to a £100billion bill for a nuclear weapons system that is neither appropriate nor flexible and is certainly not independent.

“Even if the nuclear weapons argument were correct, government cuts have meant that in the very near future we may be capable of deterring an attack, but at the same time woefully under-resourced to deal with any attacker who is not deterred.

“The greatest resources that the armed forces have are the skills and knowledge of their members and those skills need to be protected and enhanced. The base at Boulmer was last threatened in 2004 and last reprieved in 2008.

“It is essential for the communities directly involved and for those communities involved in a supporting role that this current threat (whether partial or wholesale) be lifted immediately – we cannot accept another four years of uncertainty.”

The Conservative candidate, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: “Throughout my time as the local MP and via my work as chairman of the All-Party Armed Forces Covenant Group, I have developed a close relationship with the base commander at Boulmer, his team and the whole RAF community based there. RAF Boulmer is a really valued part of our local community, and it has a real importance to us locally.

“The base is also of great strategic importance for our nation and for our contribution to our NATO partners, forming a critical part of our air defence programme and remote radar head management.

“As part of my work leading on the Defence Estate inquiry on the Public Accounts Select Committee, I have become very familiar with the future plans for our various bases across the UK. I can offer assurances that RAF Boulmer will continue to play an important strategic role for the UK and for our wider Alnwick community.

“Should that change at any point in the future – and there is no suggestion it will – I would always fight to ensure we retain our strategically vital base here at Boulmer.”