House of Commons Library

Defence Estate Strategy

Published Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Ministry of Defence holds one of the largest estates in the country and plans to reduce it in size by 30% by 2040. This Commons Library briefing paper outlines the Government's plans and critical analysis by the National Audit Office.

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The Ministry of Defence has outlined a 25-year plan to streamline its massive defence estate. Analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO) suggests implementing the plan will “extremely challenging” and there is a “significant risk” that that the poor condition of the estate will affect defence capability.

This briefing paper lays out the Government’s proposals and the key findings by the NAO. The Government’s plan focuses on the ‘Built Estate’ part of the Defence Estate and not the Training or Reserves estates.

The Government's plan

The Government has committed to reducing the estate in size by 30% by 2040. It has identified 91 sites across the UK it intends to dispose of by that date. These range from historic Fort George in Scotland to Woolwich barracks in London to the closure of 40 Commando’s base in Devon.

The Ministry of Defence says its estate, which covers 1.8% of the UK land mass, is inefficient, expensive to maintain and incompatible with the needs of the modern armed forces. The future estate will be smaller and clustered around areas of specialisation.

The plan, also known as the Footprint Strategy, was published in A Better Defence Estate  in November 2016. The Government says it an additional £4bn will be need to be spent on the remainder of the estate over the next decade. So far it has committed £1bn.

Closing these sites also releases land for up to 55,000 new homes as part of the Government’s wider target of releasing land for up to 160,000 new homes by 2020.

Next steps

  • Annual report to Parliament
  • Annual Industry day
  • To examine Training Estate and Reserves Estate

The MOD will submit an annual update to Parliament on the implementation of the plan with the first report due in autumn 2017.

Debate in Parliament

The Secretary of State for Defence gave an oral statement to the House on 7 November 2016. Sir Michael Fallon emphasised the inefficency, age and unsuitability of the estate for the current needs of the armed forces.

The strategy will deliver “a better estate for service families” the Defence Secretary said, to provide more stable schooling and better job opportunities for partners. Going forward, he said, the MOD will work with local authorities, the devolved administrations and industry.

Nia Griffiths, the shadow defence secretary, said the Labour party recognised the need for the defence estate to be restructured. But she noted the plans are "very considerable in scale" and expressed concern about the impact on the armed forces and families, the Government's plans for consulting relevant stakeholders (local authorities, for example) and how the Government would ensure the 55,000 homes would be affordable and in areas where there are housing shortages.

Several MPs focused on the impact of closures of bases in their own constituencies and the strong links between the units and the local community. Drew Hendry cited the closure of the garrison at Fort George “after 250 years of service and sacrifice” while Rebecca Pow worried about the “knock-on effect” in Taunton with 40 Commando leaving their Norton Manor camp.

Members of the Scottish National Party focused on the eight sites that are to be disposed of in Scotland and Brendan O’Hara (SNP) asked how the cutbacks could be considered good for Scotland. Lady Hermon (Ind) raised the closure of three sites in Northern Ireland.

The National Audit Office describes the plan as "challenging"

The National Audit Office has scrutinised the plan and concluded that much of it is uncertain and carries risk. In particular, the NAO criticises historic underfunding in the estate; identifies an £8.5bn shortfall in funding needed over the next 30 years to maintain the estate; and questions the assumptions underpinning the Government’s predictions of receiving £1bn in land receipts. the NAO says successfully implementing the strategy will be "extremely challenging".

The NAO is also critical of the contract signed with an external, Capita-led consortium. This consortium is contracted as a Strategic Business Partner to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which is tasked with running the defence estate. However the NAO says the business partner, brought in to improve the DIO, has not met all expectations and has not made a notable difference in transforming DIO.

What is the defence estate?

 

The defence estate is 1.8% of the UK land mass and is one of the largest estates in the country. It includes land, accommodation and training facilities. The estate as a whole covers 424,000 hectares (the MOD owns 220,000 hectares of land and foreshore and has access to a further 204,000 hectares) and the ‘built estate’ covers 30 million square metres. The MOD spent £4.8bn, or 12% of its budget, on the estate in 2015-16 of which £2.7bn was spent by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which manages the majority of the built estate. The estate comprises three main areas:

  • The Built Estate: barracks, naval bases, offices, storage units, depots and airfields
  • The Housing Estate: service family homes
  • Training Estate: training areas and ranges

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7862

Author: Louisa Brooke-Holland

Topics: Armed forces, Defence expenditure, Defence policy

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