Published: 00:01, 12 November 2017
The government’s handling of plans to close Invicta Park Barracks may amount to a serious breach of equality duties, an MP has claimed.
Helen Grant, who represents Maidstone and the Weald, has branded as “a nonsense” the Ministry of Defence’s intention to carry out an assessment of the impact the loss of the base would have on vulnerable groups – after the final decision is taken.
Invicta Park Barracks, off Royal Engineers’ Road, is one of 57 sites earmarked by the MoD for closure.
For the County Town, it would mean the end of its association with the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers and the Royal Engineers, with 800 personnel and their families moving away by 2027.
Plans were announced last November, prompting outrage across the County Town and consternation within its close-knit Nepalese community.
Mrs Grant, a vocal opponent, spoke out after handing over a petition with 5,000 signatures in London last week.
She said: “The nub of the issue is that the MoD should be carrying out an equality impact assessment for Maidstone’s Invicta Park Barracks before the final decision to close is taken, and that the outcome of the assessment should form a part of the eventual decision.
“However, when I put this to the Ministry in a formal question I was told the assessment would only be carried out once the barracks are closed.
“That makes a nonsense of the entire procedure and I have now asked for an explanation.
“If the MoD fail to fulfil their obligation they may be open to judicial review, or even an action under the European Court of Human Rights.
"The will of the people of Maidstone is clear. They value the historic and intrinsic nature of Maidstone as a garrison town and are fiercely protective of the wellbeing of our close knit and much loved Nepalese population.
“I will fight to ensure the government considers the full impact of this closure, which will potentially wreck a happy and settled community of many hundreds of civilians and military personnel.”
The equality duty requires public authorities to consider the needs of people who are disadvantaged or likely to suffer inequality when they make policy decisions.
A government briefing note says as part of this duty equality impact assessments to explore the ramifications should be done before policies are enacted.
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