Published: 17:00, 07 November 2016
Maidstone's barracks is to close bringing to an end 229 years of history.
It has just been announced in parliament that Invicta Park Barracks, off Royal Engineers' Road, will shut its gates in 2027.
The 41-hectare site has been the home of the 36 Engineer Regiment of the Royal Engineers since 1959 and was built in its current form in the mid 60s.
But at 5.30pm Defence Secretary and Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon announced to the House of Commons in his Better Defence Estate statement that Invicta Park is surplus to requirements.
Announcing the closure of 56 sites by 2040 he said: "Our estate is vital but it's also vast, making up almost 2% of the UK's land mass. It's three times the size of Greater London. Yet while the size and structure of the military has changed to meet different threats our estate has failed to adapt."
So far this year the closure of 91 sites has been announced.
Mr Fallon went on to confirm the Ministry of Defence has now released enough sites to build 55,000 homes within this parliamentary term.
He added the long term plan was to secure better certainty for military families and allow them to put down roots in the local community.
There are currently no plans for where the 36 Engineer Regiment will relocate to.
Invicta Park is also home to the Queen's Gurkha Engineers, with a 1,200-strong Nepalese community in the town as a result.
The decision is bound to attract widespread criticism and Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and the Weald, has already spoken out against the move.
Mrs Grant said: “I have received notification from Defence Minister Mark Lancaster of intended closures of military installations and bases in the coming years, one of which is Invicta Park Barracks.
"This is a dramatic and worrying announcement for the 800 soldiers, their families and dependents, many of whom are from the hugely respected local Nepalese community. It will also impact on the wider populus and economy of Maidstone generally.
Mrs Grant continued: "The emotion of the situation is exacerbated because the MoD have not yet determined where people stationed at the base are to be relocated. This failing will create worry, stress and unhappiness whilst also affecting Regimental morale and the retention of good and highly trained personnel.
"I understand the closure is not scheduled until 2027 and that the official rationale is to ‘provide greater stability through co-location of regimental personnel and their families’.
"There has been a Military presence in the County Town of Kent for centuries and I am certainly not persuaded that this is a sound proposal. I will be looking for further and better details in support of the closure and exploring what alternatives might be available, including co-locating other units into Maidstone instead of closure. There also remains the issue of what government intentions are for the site once vacated and the resultant impact upon Maidstone.
"I will remain in close contact with all of the stakeholders involved as these plans unfold.”
The Army has been based in the town since 1798, when troops were stationed there as part of Britain's response to the threat of the French Revolution.
Over the years the site has undergone huge changes and although most of the original buildings have long been decommissioned and demolished, the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment's Officer's Mess is still based at Sandling Road's White Rabbit pub.
In February 2014 we reported how Maidstone Borough Council was eyeing up the site for a development of up to 1,300 homes.
The authority announced in its draft Local Plan that it expected the Army to quit the site by 2031 but the Ministry of Defence flatly denied any such plans, saying a review was carried out in March 2013 with some bases earmarked for closure of which Invicta Park was not one.
The borough's Local Plan still has Invicta Park marked as a site of potential development after 2026.
In May Canterbury City Council lost its bid to buy 147 homes at the city's Howe Barracks, which instead were purchased by the London Borough of Redbridge, 60 miles away.
The authority, which has 2,500 people on its housing register, said it submitted a "robust and comprehensive" offer but were pipped by the north London council.