The Defence Infrastructure Organisation supports the armed forces in building, maintaining and servicing the infrastructure needed to enable defence people to live, work, train and deploy. As the DIO seeks to implement its estate optimisation strategy, what are the implications of this ‘significantly smaller, more efficient and better quality estate’ for rural communities? Jessica Sellick investigates.
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation, or DIO for short, is part of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and charged with looking after the military estate in the UK and overseas. According to the MOD, the defence estate covers 1.8% of the UK land mass (or 424,000 hectares – with the MOD owning 220,000 hectares and having access to a further 204,000 hectares). This comprises a ‘built estate’ such as barracks, naval bases, offices, storage units, depots and airfields; a ‘housing estate’ comprising service family homes; and a ‘training estate’ comprising training areas and ranges.
Back in November 2015, the Government published the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). This provided the MOD with clear direction on what the defence estate should look like in the future. It proposed the built estate reduce in size by 30% by 2040; allocated £1 billion for estate rationalisation – with the receipts from the disposal of assets reinvested back into defence; and allocated £550 million of capital investment to address ‘critical issues’ in the MOD’s estate infrastructure.
The SDSR was intended to fit into wider Government initiatives including the One Public Estate programme being delivered by the Local Government Association (LGA), Cabinet Office and Government Property Unit (GPU) involving 159 Councils (across 36 partnerships) to deliver collaborative property-led projects in local areas; and the Government Construction Strategy 2016-2020 which sets out plans to increase productivity in government construction, delivering £1.7 billion efficiencies and supporting 20,000 apprenticeships.
In November 2016 the MOD published ‘a better defence estate’. This builds upon the SDSR in setting out a strategic and long-term approach to transforming the estate: from one built for previous generations of war fighting into one that will better support the Armed Forces’ future needs. The document describes an estate which is overall “still too big, too expensive, with too many sites in the wrong locations…it costs £2.5 billion a year to maintain; and 40% of our assets are more than 50 years old.
The Armed Forces are 30% smaller than at the end of the last century but the estate has only reduced by 9%.” The MOD is investing £48 billion over the next 10 years to design an estate around capability and regional / specialist clusters; creating jobs in construction and service industries and giving personnel and their partners better employment opportunities and more stable schooling for their children. It also includes the release of land with potential for 55,000 homes.
Of these, an estimated 11,200 units may come from existing MOD disposals, 20,500 from the transfer of five larger sites to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and 15,200 from Estate Optimisation Disposals. This forms part of the Government’s wider target of releasing land for up to 160,000 new homes by 2020.
Since January 2016, the Government has identified 91 sites across the UK that it intends to dispose of by 2040. These range from Thornhill Barracks in Hampshire (estimated disposal 2021) to RAF Colerne in Wiltshire (disposal date 2018) and the closure of 40 Commando’s base in Devon.
The 91 disposal sites identified are some of the 300 most expensive sites to maintain and run. It is estimated that disposal of these sites will generate £140 million in savings from running costs over ten years and £3 billion in savings from running costs to 2040. Their disposal will also enable £4 billion to be invested in the remaining estate.
In November 2016 the National Audit Office (NAO) produced a report ‘delivering the defence estate’. This reviewed the Government’s current plans.
The NAO identified an £8.5 million shortfall in funding needed over the next 30 years to maintain the estate and questioned the assumptions underpinning the Government’s predictions of receiving £1 billion in land receipts. The NAO also queried a contract signed between the Government and an external Capita-led consortium to work with the DIO in running the defence estate.
While people working in defence need a suitable work environment and a home, what are the implications for rural communities of the restructuring of the defence estate?
I offer three points.
First, much of the defence estate (in the UK and overseas) is found in rural areas – because of the space the MOD requires to carry out its activities (e.g. room to train soldiers, land a transport plane etc.) – yet there seems to be little strategic policy and practice discussion around the role of the military in the countryside. What economic, social and environmental impacts does the estate bring to rural communities? What effects will restructuring the defence estate have on rural communities? What good practice and lessons can be learned where bases have already closed? What is the likely impact of the 91 sites now earmarked for disposal?
Much of the existing evidence for the UK appears site specific.
In February 2010 SQW produced a report on the economic impact of current and future military presence in North Yorkshire, focussing on Catterick Garrison. Then, MOD employment represented 44% of all jobs in Richmondshire District with the net annual economic impact of military activity on the Yorkshire and Humber region from the base estimated at between £541 million and £594 million.
The report identified opportunities around integrating military leavers into the region’s labour market to help the local economy. Similarly, SQW assessed the scale and anticipated impact of the closure of RAF Cottesmore. The base accommodated 1,508 RAF personnel and 589 civilian staff (with 218 of those employed by the MOD and 371 by contractors).
Between 2006 and 2010 the RAF invested £7.4 million in refurbishment and accommodation development – equating to 77 temporary jobs being supported each year. The report raised wider socio-economic and environmental impacts of base closure around schools, the housing market, the supply of school leavers to the labour market, the short-term supply of skills to the market, public transport and demand on services.
The academic research agenda includes work by Rachel Woodward and colleagues at the University of Newcastle around military landscapes (including military land use in the Northumberland National Park); with other academics exploring veterans lifestyles and employment in civilian life; and the impact of deployment on military families. The University of Lincoln has a contract from the MOD to deliver postgraduate courses in logistics management to military personnel based in Lincolnshire and elsewhere.
Much of this literature doesn’t attend to the wider impacts of the defence estate.
In comparison, in the United States there is a strategic focus on the impact of base realignments and closures (BRAC). Jim Lee at Texas A&M University, for example, considered the economic impacts of BRAC between 2005 and 2011. Lee analysed county employment and income, taking into account the different characteristics and locations of the affected military bases, as well as non-BRAC factors that might have also affected local economies.
Lee’s study found the reduction in military workforce had a more adverse effect among Air Force bases compared to Navy or Army bases and the economic impact was higher in areas where there was a spill over effect on other local industries (e.g. military use of contractors, supply chains). In areas where a military base was expanded, however, Lee found the local community tended to add private jobs versus closure or downsizing of a base where the local economy was found to perform poorly.
In September 2016, the National Conference of State Legislatures published a report on ‘state military economic impact studies’. This summarised the key findings emerging from 26 States that had recently completed or in the process of completing military economic impact studies. This found even states with relatively small military footprints had significant economic impacts – in Massachusetts, for example, military installations contributed $4.6 billion in spending and more than 36,000 jobs to the state economy.
Perhaps we need to develop a better understanding of the role the defence estate plays in the countryside and the ways in which military activities interact with rural communities and economies?
Secondly, what role can or might Local Authorities play in a smaller defence estate? ‘A better defence estate’ recognises the need for the DIO/MOD to work with Local Authorities impacted upon decisions to reduce the defence estate. On the one hand, this requires the MOD to be visible about its forward plans for military sites. On the other hand, it requires Local Authorities to identify the economic and community potential of sites earmarked for disposal.
This raises issues around the compatibility of the MOD’s objectives around capability and meeting future military needs; with the objectives of Local Authorities around achieving the best outcomes for their local communities. Nevertheless, the Local Government Association (LGA) believes Local Authorities now have opportunities to set out their ambitions for disposal sites.
This is not new for many Local Authorities – West Lindsey District Council, for example, has looked at how former RAF bases can be revitalised in terms of their ‘engineering legacies’ and/or a food enterprise zone; and East Northamptonshire Council is working with the Deene Estate to draw up proposals to develop a garden village at Deenethorpe Airfield.
As well as disposal, there are opportunities for Local Authorities to engage with the MOD/DIO where they will be enhancing existing military infrastructure or where brand new investments are to be made: from the RAF’s continued development of ‘deep specialist Main Operating Bases’ around combat (e.g. RAF Coningsby, RAF Marham, RAF Lossiemouth); to the Army’s armoured and tracked units centred around Salisbury Plain and mechanised/wheeled capability centred around Catterick.
Thirdly and finally, it is worth noting that much of the current focus of the MOD is on the ‘built estate’ and using military, capability, efficiency and value-for-money data to determine the ‘geographical laydown’ for UK forces. The MOD is due to submit an update to Parliament on the implementation of this in autumn 2017. However, the MOD is separately examining the Training Estate (16 major training areas and 104 other minor training areas) and Reserves Estate and the outcomes of this will also have implications for Local Authorities and rural communities.
The defence estate and military play a role in rural areas but our understanding of quite what this role is and what the implications are is little understood or discussed. The SDSR, a better defence estate and MOD review of Training and Reserves Estates may now provide us with renewed impetus to think about what this military presence means (or might mean) for rural communities and economies.
Jessica is a researcher/project manager at Rose Regeneration; an economic development business working with communities, Government and business to help them achieve their full potential.Her current work includes research for the NHS on rural workforce recruitment and retention issues; supporting a Lottery programme to help people into paid work; and an EU wide project on agricultural innovation.