Bid to limit blow over barracks closure welcomed

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Moves to appoint a consultant to help limit the economic blow to Ripon’s economy when the axe falls on Claro Barracks have been welcomed by a local councillor as a positive move forward.

Earlier this year politicians and civic leaders in Ripon rued a “sad day for the city” after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced Claro barracks will be one of seven Army sites to be sold off as part of a massive cost-cutting programme.

The move is set to take place in 2017, with all 650 troops currently based at Ripon being moved 20 miles north to Catterick.

Now members of Harrogate Borough Council have agreed to earmark up to £25,000 from reserves towards the cost of appointing an external consultant to study at the impact and look at what can be done to move the city forward. The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has also given £25,000 towards the project.

Coun Mike Chambers (cons, Ripon Spa) a member of Harrogate Borough Council, said: “Quite honestly we wish it was different and we wish that the soldiers were staying but they are not and we have to move on,” he said.

“Quite obviously their departure will create a difficulty for the local economy. However it’s not as bleak as some may say.”

Coun Chambers welcomed the decision to earmark cash for the survey as a “positive” step forward and said as he understood some soldiers’ families would remain in the area when the changes were brought in – a move that should lessen the impact on local shops and businesses.

He said it was important that ways of moving forward were studied.

Concerns were immediately raised about the impact of 
the closure on the small community, which served as a base for 30,000 troops during the First World War, including the poet Wilfred Owen, who wrote some of his most famous works while living there.

Speaking in the Lords at the time of the announcement, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rev John Packer, warned: “The damage to Ripon of the closure of Claro will be substantial in terms of the economic effect, friendships and the pride of the city.”

As part of the Ministry Defence reforms it has been announced that the 21 Engineer Regiment, based at the barracks, will be moving to Catterick Garrison. 
A Future of Claro Action Group has already been formed in the city with the support of Ripon MP Julian Smith, Harrogate Borough Council, Ripon City Council and a number of organisations.

After the announcement Coun Alan Skidmore, deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council and member of Ripon City Council, said:“It is incredibly sad that they are closing but we must start planning for the future and that process must start now.”