MoD to sell off land to make up budget cuts

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Indy Politics
THOUSANDS of acres of land, including areas of outstanding beauty, are to be offered for sale by the Ministry of Defence, in an attempt to ease the crisis over Treasury demands for deep cuts in defence spending.

Defence ministers are ready to order the sale of land in the Brecon Beacons, Northumberland, and other areas where the armed forces have trained for years. Ministers believe the land sale would produce a public relations bonus for the MoD by making some areas more accessible to the public.

Some of the land is arable and could be used for farming, while other areas of moorland could be sold to grouse-shooting consortiums. Ministers believe it could lead to the public being given wider access in some areas where there has been a conflict of interests between the national parks and the armed forces.

With land prices at low levels, ministers accept that it is not the best time to sell, but they privately say the MoD should get whatever it can to help meet the gap between its needs and its budget for the next three years.

Ranges where live ammunition has been fired are unlikely to be offered for sale until they are cleared, but large areas where training is carried out, with tanks and men, could be sold, providing the MoD retains some rights of access. The MoD would seek leases enabling the armed forces to gain access to the land from time to time for training

exercises.

The total MoD estate covers 600,000 acreas, including Salisbury Plain, although ministers are more bullish than their officials about the extent of the land which could be sold.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, is going to the EDX Cabinet committee next week to continue his fight against the defence cuts. He has agreed reductions in his budgets for the next two years, but is resisting the Treasury's demands over the third year, which he has warned could mean a full defence review to decide which Nato commitments should be dropped. The battle is likely to go to the full Cabinet next Thursday.

The Chiefs of Staff are also reserving the right to protest to the Prime Minister. Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, the Chief of Air Staff, has been recalled from leave to make contingency plans which may include the complete withdrawal of the RAF from Germany, mothballing more Tornado squadrons, and even another look at the need for the troubled Eurofighter 2000 multi-role aircraft.

These are regarded at Westminster as 'worst case scenarios', but underline the seriousness of the cuts that are facing Mr Rifkind.

With no heavily-armoured Russian threat, the Challenger 2 tank, 127 of which have been ordered at a cost of about pounds 900m, is one possible saving. Challenger 1 tanks would be upgraded instead. And armoured (tank) regiments could be reduced from eight to six.

Withdrawing forces from Germany could achieve savings on foreign exchange costs quickly, as well as longer-term economies. The RAF could be removed entirely.

Surface warships could be cut from the planned 35.

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