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Call for Rishi Sunak to rethink plans for closure of Invicta Park Barracks in Maidstone

Now is the time for the Ministry of Defence to re-think its plans to close a town centre barracks.

That is the view of Maidstone councillor Dave Naghi.

Could spending announcement mean a reprieve for Invicta Park?
Could spending announcement mean a reprieve for Invicta Park?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has today pledged to increase defence spending by nearly £5bn over the next two years to counter "emerging threats from hostile states".

The extra cash will be confirmed in a new UK foreign and security strategy, due to be published on Monday.

The re-emphasis on the importance of defence has sparked speculation that the planned closure of Invicta Park Barracks in Maidstone, home to 36 Engineer Regiment and to the King's Gurkha Engineers, could be cancelled.

Back in 2016, when the government published its Defence Estate Optimisation Programme, it said the barracks would close in 2027.

However, in 2021, the MoD said the closure would be delayed by two years to 2029.

Cllr Dave Naghi: We need the barracks
Cllr Dave Naghi: We need the barracks

Cllr Naghi (Lib Dem) said: "In my view, the barracks is never going to close.

"The government was only doing it to save money.

"With the situation in the Ukraine as it is, we could easily find ourselves drawn into the war.

"It would be absolutely ridiculous to close the barracks now."

Cllr Naghi may have an unexpected ally in Maidstone and The Weald MP Helen Grant, who had previously welcomed the earlier postponement of closure because she was concerned at the effect it would have on Maidstone's well-established Nepalese community.

MP Helen Grant: Let's keep the barracks
MP Helen Grant: Let's keep the barracks

She said: "I have always believed there is a strong case for keeping Invicta Park Barracks fully operational.

"Maidstone is a strategic location between London and the Channel Ports which is why we have had a military presence here since 1797.

"And in the modern era, we are still the main frontier county with Europe and everything that goes with the territory.

"I very much support the government’s announcements on increased defence in response to growing global volatility and new threats from Russia and China.

"And from our County Town’s perspective, we cannot ignore the cultural loss and the effect of closure on serving soldiers, especially those of the Gurkha Engineers, and their close links with the much-loved and established local Nepalese community.

"If ever there was a time to review the decision to close our army base, now could be that moment. Surely this should be seen as a time to reinforce, rather than retrench."

Cllr David Burton: Nothing has changed
Cllr David Burton: Nothing has changed

However, David Burton, leader of Maidstone council, said: "I have heard nothing to the effect that this announcement [of cash] is going to have any effect on the MoD's plans to close Invicta Park.

"As I understand the strategy behind their thinking, they are looking to develop fewer, super barracks, that would have facilities that can't be matched by smaller barracks like Invicta."

The borough council is relying on the closure of the barracks and the sale of the site for housing, in order to meet its housing allocation in its Local Plan Review.

Cllr Burton (Con) said: "Our talks with the MoD about the release of the land are at a very advanced stage and I don't see anything changing that now."

It is expected that the bulk of the extra government spending, £3bn, will go to boost the Aukus Pact, an agreement between the UK, the US and Australia to counter what is perceived as a Chinese threat in the Indo-Pacific.

The 36 Engineer Regiment has been a featured of Maidstone for nearly 60 years
The 36 Engineer Regiment has been a featured of Maidstone for nearly 60 years

The remaining £2bn is thought to be the cost of replacing weapons already sent to Ukraine.

However, Mr Sunak also announced an ongoing target to increase defence spending to 2.5% of national income (from 2.2% currently), which might yet hold out some hope for Invicta Park.

In 1956, the UK was spending 8% of its GDP on defence.

The Prime Minister said the UK had to be ready to face an increasingly "volatile" world.

The MoD has not responded to a request for comment.

Invicta Barracks was opened in 1965.

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