Hundreds join march over closure threat to RAF base

Residents of a small Highland community turned out in their hundreds yesterday to march in support of a closure-threatened RAF base.

A high-profile campaign was launched to save RAF Lossiemouth in Moray amid fears that its fleet of Tornado jets could be moved to England as part of the ongoing Westminster defence review.

The region has already been struck a blow with the cancellation of the new generation of Nimrods, which is likely to threaten nearby RAF Kinloss.

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A report produced for Highlands and Islands Enterprise earlier this year estimated the annual economic contribution of the bases, said to support 5,700 jobs, at more than 150m.

Yesterday afternoon a pipe band led hundreds of supporters including ex-servicemen and their families on a march through the streets of Lossiemouth to a rally at Grant Park, home of the local football club.

Marchers held aloft placards with the slogans: "Save RAF Lossie" and "Fighting For Moray".

They received cross-party support with the attendance of First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond, and the leaders of Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie and Tavish Scott.

The march set off at 2pm from Muirton Road, yards from the main entrance to the RAF base.

Also taking part was Colin McGregor, the brother of actor Ewan McGregor and a former Tornado pilot who served at RAF Lossiemouth.

A worker at one of the bases in Moray, who wished not to be named and joined the march, said: "They need to keep it open. It needs to stay open otherwise Lossiemouth and Moray will be a ghost town.

"It will kill the Moray area. It's what everybody is feeling whether they work in the bases or live in Moray."

Earlier yesterday, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox told Sky News Sunday Live he was "sensitive" to the needs of Moray and suggested bases could be used to accommodate soldiers returning from Germany – though he insisted no decisions had yet been made.

The Ministry of Defence was looking at whether communities which had given "tremendous loyal emotional support" to the armed forces over a long period of time could have the "nature" of their military connection changed rather than taken away.

The impact on jobs of base closures would be discussed across Government, Dr Fox said, adding: "Where you have got Kinloss and Lossiemouth very close together, clearly there is a much bigger regional impact there than there would be in other places, and we are sensitive to that."

Marcher Belinda Shand, 47, who lives in Elgin, said: "I think it's going to affect everybody if it closes – not just local people but local businesses.

"It needs to stay open. It keeps the whole community thriving."