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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Hope for jobs as firms eye up military base near Carlisle

Businesses could start working on part of a military base saved from closure within a year – fuelling hopes of a jobs boost.

Longtown depot photo
The Ministry of Defence depot at Longtown

Plans to hive off some of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) depot at Longtown for commercial work are said to be courting considerable attention.

At least one firm has said it is interested in having operations there with others also understood to have come forward.

A senior trade union official at the depot has told The Cumberland News that he understands plans to lure commercial work – jobs from which, it is hoped, will offset pending redundancies from the military operations there – are progressing well.

Transforming part of the depot into a logistics hub, including a dry port linked by rail to the Port of Workington, has been flagged up as one of the key projects for driving forward north Cumbria’s economy.

The depot had been threatened with closure but Defence Minister Philip Dunne announced in November it would stay open with MoD activity there scaled down.

He also said there were plans to develop the site commercially, with the depot’s rail hub, internal track network and connections to the main rail network seen as major selling points.

Luis Eckersley, of the Prospect union, said: “We are progressing and the depot is now being marketed and over the course of the next few months a company will be appointed to market it Europe-wide.”

He added that the unions were working with Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council and the MoD to help with this marketing.

“We are working to get things in place and get commercial companies on the site in the next six to 12 months.”

The depot will remain open with just over 180 staff.

This means 77 posts are to be axed as the number of store houses are cut back. Mr Eckersley said he expected most of these to be voluntary redundancies.

He also said large companies had expressed an interest in moving into the site but could not comment further.

“We are at the early stages with them,” he said.

At a meeting of Arthuret parish council in Longtown this week, councillor Val Tarbitt, who represents Longtown and Rockcliffe on Cumbria County Council, told members this was going well.

“It is really moving forward in a very exciting way. A lot of things are happening.”

One firm which has announced an interest in the depot is New Age Exploration, an Australian mining company exploring the Lochinvar coalfield, which straddles the border.

The company has said the site could be suitable as a rail hub for a future mine.

Buccleuch Estates, which is also exploring the field, said in November it recognised “the potential for commercial activities” at the site.

A company planning to extract methane gas from the coalfield has been taken over. British firm IGas has acquired Dart Energy – an Australian company which had been working with Buccleuch Estates – in a £117.1m deal.

Andrew Austin, IGas’ chief executive officer, said: “This transaction puts IGas at the heart of unlocking Britian’s energy potential.”

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