Defence experts stunned by plan to axe Gosport military base

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THE CLOSURE of Gosport’s naval base HMS Sultan has shocked defence experts.

The plan was revealed last night by defence secretary Michael Fallon as part of the Ministry of Defence’s cost-cutting measures.

As part of the MoD’s estate strategy, the base’s responsibility for mechanical engineering training will be moved to other naval institutions across the UK.

The move has stunned retired Lieutenant Commander Mike Critchley, who lives in Gosport.

The maritime defence expert – and ex-publisher of Warship World, said: ‘I am staggered by it. The navy desperately needs more engineers of all sorts and to close Sultan down seems to be an unbelievable way forward.

‘Having all the engineering training in one place seemed to make a lot of sense but the MoD will do anything to save money without necessarily thinking what’s the long term best for the country.

‘Let’s hope we see a few more ships ordered as a result of these savings made as our navy is getting smaller and smaller.

‘Have we forgotten we are still an island nation importing about 95 per cent of our national needs, from gas and oil to flip flops?

‘No doubt the Sultan site will release land for yet more housing ion the peninsular that can’t cope with its current traffic level.’

The move to axe Sultan will see responsibilities for mechanical engineering training will move to HMS Collingwood in Fareham and the Admiralty Interview Board will go to Portsmouth Naval Base.

Submarine engineer training will be transferred to the Clyde, in Scotland.

It has sparked concern from Gosport MP Caroline Dineage, who has vowed to pile pressure on the MoD to reverse plans to sell the military base.

Admiral Lord Alan West, the former head of the Royal Navy, has said he is not necessarily against the plan to close the base – as long as it did not impact on the capability of the Senior Service.

‘I have to say that rationalisation of the defence estate makes sense,’ said the former chief of defence staff.

‘It needs to be done. So rationalisation makes sense - as long as we’re not losing any capability.

‘But I don’t want this being used to disguise the systematic shrinking of the defence budget.

He called on the government to ensure more money is spent on creating more ships for the navy’s fleet.

The MoD says the aim is to provide a ‘smaller but better estate’ for the armed forces and their families.

Selling sites will help the government build 55,000 new homes across the country, cut defence running costs by £140m over the next decade and pay for £4bn worth of improvements.

HMS Nelson’s Wardroom in Portsmouth and Southwick Park are already on the disposal list.

Defence secretary and former minister for Portsmouth, Michael Fallon, said: ‘While in many areas we use our estate efficiently, overall it is still too big, too expensive, with too many sites in the wrong locations: it covers 424,000 hectares, about 1.8 per cent of the UK land mass; it costs £2.5bn a year to maintain; and 40 per cent of our assets are more than 50 years old.

‘The armed forces are 30 per cent smaller than at the end of the last century, but the estate has only reduced by nine per cent.

‘That is why the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) committed to invest in a better built estate that will reduce in size by 30 per cent by 2040.’