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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 July, 2005, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
RAF to shut island radar station
RAF Saxa Vord
The RAF station is the island's biggest employer
An RAF radar station on Britain's most northerly inhabited island is to be mothballed, it has been confirmed.

Saxa Vord on Unst will close "in all but name", the Ministry of Defence has said. About 100 of the early warning base's 110 jobs will go by next April.

The announcement is a blow to the economy of the island, which has about 700 inhabitants, many of whom are dependent on the base.

Another 220 posts are to go at three defence munitions centres in Scotland.

Crombie, in Fife, which provides support and storage for weapons systems, will lose 142 posts and another 80 will be cut at Glen Douglas in Argyll and Beith in North Ayrshire.

DMC Beith

The announcement is part of the Ministry of Defence's modernisation plans for the armed forces.

Defence Secretary John Reid said that the need for Saxa Vord, which opened in 1957, had diminished since the end of the Cold War.

Saxa Vord provides the UK with early warning of aircraft approaching from the north for the Integrated Command and Control System.

Mr Reid said the radar coverage required by the RAF could be provided from elsewhere in Scotland, augmented by the National Air Traffic Service radar picture.

"The Ministry of Defence is funded by the taxpayer to meet defence needs," he went on.

I do not want the Ministry of Defence to think that after 50 or so years they can turn the key in the door and walk away from it
Alistair Carmichael
Orkney and Shetland MP

"Although I understand this decision will have wider implications for the community, the RAF cannot waste taxpayers' money by operating a station we no longer require."

The station will be placed on a care-and-maintenance basis, meaning it is effectively closed but that the operational part of the site could be reactivated if required.

About 70 service personnel, 30 civilians and 10 contractors are located there. All the military staff will be relocated within the RAF unless selected for redundancy.

The MoD said efforts would be made to help civilian staff find employment with other government departments in the area although it said opportunities were likely to be limited.

'Significant change'

Orkney and Shetland Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: "The stationing of Saxa Vord on Unst has been very important for that community over the years.

"I do not want the Ministry of Defence to think that after 50 or so years they can turn the key in the door and walk away from it.

"You can't just, in an island community of that size, make a significant change and not realise that it is going to have a big impact on the island itself."

Valhalla Brewery advert
Local businesses are worried about the impact of the announcement

Sonny Priest, who runs the Valhalla Brewery, was made redundant from the RAF camp in 1981.

"The main difference now is that at that time there were fairly widespread employment opportunities throughout the island and into Yell and other places," he said.

"I found work no problem at all, but the problem this time is that anybody who is made redundant is really going to struggle to find work."

Sandy Cluness, Shetland Islands Council convener, said the job losses would have a "devastating" impact on Unst in both social and economic terms.

"This will lead to the loss of around one third of the island's workforce and will have wider reaching implications, as many of the service personnel have families, so the local school population will suffer," he said.

Largest employer

He said it would also have a detrimental effect on the trade of the island's hotels and shops.

Mr Cluness said the council would be asking for financial assistance to help Unst recover from the job cuts.

Ann Black, chief executive of Shetland Enterprise, said: "We are working closely with our local partner organisations in Shetland to minimise the effect of job losses and assist civilian workers who may be directly affected."

The MoD is the largest employer on Unst, which is the most northerly of the Shetland islands.

One third of the population is connected to the base and nearly half the primary and nursery children in the Baltasound area are from RAF families.

Fire cover

The RAF provides enhanced fire cover on Unst in addition to that provided by the fire board, in order that it can respond to a fire in the bunker at RAF Saxa Vord.

Once the bunker is vacated, the enhanced cover will be withdrawn.

The MoD said discussions were under way with the trade unions and with Nato, which has to approve the changes because Saxa Vord is an "approved" Nato site.

Task force tackling job cutbacks
03 Jun 05 |  Scotland
Ingram visits jobs shake-up base
26 May 05 |  Scotland

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