Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 16:55 UK

Rocket range decision 'in weeks'

St Kilda radar station
Defence Minister Quentin Davies visited St Kilda radar station on Tuesday

A decision on the future of a rocket test range and its associated sites is expected within weeks following a visit by the defence minister.

Quentin Davies flew to Hirta in St Kilda, the site of the range's tracking station, before meeting campaigners opposed to planned cuts to 125 jobs.

Public consultation on the proposals is due to end in two weeks time.

Islands council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and community landowner Storas Uibhist have opposed the cuts.

Mr Davies and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy previously met with campaigners in London.

Before leaving the Western Isles following a two-day visit, Mr Davies said: "I was pleased to be able to visit the Hebrides range.

The biggest constraint is the contract between QinetiQ and the MoD which only allows for savings
Angus MacMillan
Storas Uibhist

"When Jim Murphy and I met with the local taskforce in London in July, I undertook to visit the Hebrides range and St Kilda during the consultation period.

"The opportunity to see the range, to talk to the workforce, meet local representatives and to hear their views has been invaluable. I would certainly not have been able to take an informed decision without it."

Ahead of the latest meeting with the defence minister, Storas Uibhist chairman Angus MacMillan said consideration should be given to expanding the range.

The community landowner controls large parts of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist.

Under the planned cuts by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and contractor QinetiQ, the radar station on Hirta would be operated remotely with staff only visiting for maintenance and servicing.

The command and control centre on South Uist has been earmarked for closure by 2014. Rocket trials would run instead from Aberporth in Wales using new technology.

West Camp - an Army base at Balivanich, Benbecula - would remain open but one accommodation block would close , reducing the need for domestic staff.

The camp is linked to training on the Rapier air defence missile system which is used by the Royal Artillery and RAF.

Threatened jobs

A 30-working-day consultation period inviting views on the proposals began on 17 June.

Mr MacMillan had hoped the meeting between Mr Davies and those campaigning to save the threatened jobs would convince the minister to abandon the plan, or allow more time to consider the cuts.

He said: "The biggest constraint is the contract between QinetiQ and the MoD which only allows for savings and not for looking at other alternatives for expanding the facility for example and look at profits that could be generated.

"That is a very strong plank in the argument we are putting forward."

The taskforce set up to fight the cuts - part of plans aimed at saving about £50m - has already met Mr Murphy.

The campaign group includes public bodies such as local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

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