MP’s rallying call over barracks closure

21 Engineers will leave Ripon's Claro Barracks in 2017.
21 Engineers will leave Ripon's Claro Barracks in 2017.
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Ripon MP Julian Smith has pledged to rally the city together to fight economic hardship when Claro Barracks closes in 2017.

In the wake of last week’s controversial Government announcement, Mr Smith met residents, councillors and businesses across Ripon outside the town hall on Saturday to discuss ways the community can mitigate the social and economic impact on the city when the 21 Engineer Regiment, pictured above, relocates to Catterick Garrison.

“The biggest message I got from the meeting was that people are very concerned and disappointed,” Mr Smith told the Gazette after speaking to people just four days after the Ministry of Defence announcement.

“This is a big blow but I do believe that if we work together we can ensure we look to the future in the most positive way we can.”

Mr Smith will meet defence ministers over the next few weeks to express the views of Ripon people and “get the best deal for the tax payer and the local community”.

“A lot of business owners come along who wanted to know what the next step forward is for the future of Ripon,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith told the Gazette his imminent meeting with defence ministers will be “the first of many”.

“We need to co-ordinate various organisations across the city to establish a vision for Ripon, not just in the next four years but for the next 10 to 15 years,” he said.

Ripon city councillors have also urged the city to remain positive about the future.

Coun Alan Skidmore, who also serves as deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council, told the Gazette he will form a working group to establish timings of the closure and the possible uses for the vacated site.

“Not all is lost. There are those who take the attitude that it is the end of the world but it isn’t,”he said.

“There is a possible positive outcome. We had nine months notice that the Ripon and York college campus would close. This is a much longer withdrawal of spending power.”

He added: “We can’t afford to sit back. We need to be getting on with something as a city.”

But not everyone in the city remains as optimistic about Ripon’s future without the 21 Engineers.

Kenn Hart, chairman of Ripon and District Branch of the Royal Engineers Association, saidthe lasting economic impact will be “quietly devastating”.

“Will the pittance that the Government will gain from the sale of land justify the detrimental effect on Ripon and its community? I think not,” he said.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, has also spoken out against the closure – part of an unprecedented shake up of the British Army to save £240m a year of Government funds – arguing it will cause substantial damage to the city.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the Bishop said: “The damage to Ripon of the closure of Claro Barracks will be substantial in terms of the economic effect, friendships and the pride of the city.”