Army may move north to cash in on property boom

Defence ministers are planning to move thousands of soldiers to the North and Midlands in an attempt to boost recruitment and cash in on the property boom in the South.

Defence ministers are planning to move thousands of soldiers to the North and Midlands in an attempt to boost recruitment and cash in on the property boom in the South.

They believe that they will persuade more people to sign- up ­ and remain in the forces ­ by building living-quarters near large industrial cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Birmingham, which have traditionally supplied most recruits. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will also be able to take advantage of soaring house prices in the over-heated South-east, by selling surplus property.

At the moment, the majority of soldiers are housed in the South and East Anglia, with large concentrations in Salisbury, Aldershot and Colchester. The only large barracks in the north of England are in Catterick, North Yorkshire. The MoD has begun a wide-ranging review of military accommodation in all three services, which is due to report in the autumn. It also needs to upgrade, or create, housing for about 30,000 servicemen and women over the next 10 to 15 years.

The review is expected to recommend a substantial switch from south to north, with the result that barracks in the home counties would be slimmed down. A senior MoD source said: "There is a disparity between where we get people from and where they end up living. When you study where we have our property, you find that a disproportionate amount is in the South."

The MoD also believes that too many civilian staff are located in the South, with some ministers thinking it could have been a mistake to situate the new defence procurement headquarters at Abbey Wood, near Bristol, rather than in an area of higher unemployment.

The moves come as the Army faces up to a shortfall of 8,000 personnel, mainly because unemployment is relatively low and because it finds it hard to hold on to recruits in their late twenties and early thirties.

The MoD has been forced to play down suggestions that the struggle to attract recruits is threatening the future of 10 infantry and armoured regiments. The Royal Tank Regiment, the 9th/12th Royal Lancers and the Queen's Royal Lancers are said to be among those under threat.

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