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.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Minister urged to save range jobs
04 Aug 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Website launched in ranges fight
13 Jul 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Taskforce meets Scots secretary
09 Jul 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Rocket ranges taskforce to meet
24 Jun 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Range job cuts may affect birds
23 Jun 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Unesco aware of St Kilda concerns
19 Jun 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Rockets move 'threatens' St Kilda
18 Jun 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Job cuts planned at rocket range
17 Jun 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Listening key to rare bird survey
11 May 09 |  Highlands and Islands

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific