Blackpool to become Light Infantry Hub
Above : Not the Light Infantry but display of the Army's planned new tank - which will enter service in the next few years. Salisbury and surrounding area will be the UK centre for armoured vehicle training.
Announcements last week by the Secretary of State for Defence covered a strategic rationalisation of military establishments in the UK over the next decade (or more). Consolidation of existing military bases and operating centres will mean closure of Fulwood Barracks in Preston among many other rundowns across Britain. The
existing Weeton Barracks / Camp next to Blackpool is designated as the future HQ of the 42nd Infantry Brigade which includes the 2nd and 4th Battalions of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment and 2nd and 4th Battalions of the Mercian Regiment; with consequent transfer of staff, troops and family quarters from existing locations. Completion of this new HQ move is expected by 2022 (within five years). Weeton is
situated just to the east of Blackpool in the Borough of Fylde and has been an army centre since World War Two. Within a few minutes of the M55 and A585 into Blackpool this will make an important case for strengthened public transport links to and from the Fylde coast. At the moment these are relatively sparse.
Just how many personnel and dependents are likely to be moved to Weeton (and area) as a result of this announcement are not known but the hinterland of the Fylde in proximity to Blackpool (and Preston) is set for quite substantial economic change in the coming decade. Not only is Kirkham Prison (just outside that town) an important public service employer but the nearby Weeton site is set to become just one of six Infantry bases in the entire UK after consolidation is complete. Blackpool's links with the military are well established principally of course through the RAF installations during World War Two and the USAF Bomber Repair facility from 1942 at Freckleton. The latter location is now a very important employer of high skill jobs in the BAE Systems aerospace technologies operations.
Squires Gate was of course the location for one of Britain's largest wartime bomber assembly plants (Vickers) with some of the original hangars still standing to remind us of this particular heritage. Emerging proposals for a linked chain of heritage centres along the Fylde coast with transportation (both civil and military) themes have in mind a purpose built aviation heritage and technologies venue. This potentially may be location in of this commercial zone on Blackpool's southern boundary. Ironically wartime proposals to extend the Lytham Road tramway onto Squires Gate Lane in a new centre and side of road reservation might eventually be realised linking with Starr Gate. But this is purely speculation on my part.
Having served in the Army albeit in an armoured regiment with training at Catterick - and later in Sennelager, Germany, both major military bases, I can imagine the economic impact which this new announcement involving Weeton will bring to that area - and to the Fylde coast. New infrastructure on a large scale, married quarters accommodation, supporting services, vehicle and logistics needs will certainly transform the immediate area. This development is not the only one impacting on the Fylde. The Government's decision to press ahead supporting the fracking and energy sector means the Fylde is a priority area for shale gas development and extraction. Understandably (like HS2) the consequences of millions of pounds of new investment (and employment) in a rural area does not sit favourably with many people. Opposition to this energy sector remains constant and vociferous - although not shared by all, and certainly not by Government.
And finally electrification of the Preston to Blackpool rail link is now underway with a two year timeframe for completion from January 2017. A major upgrade for this rail access connection to the West Coast Mainline, itself looking at increased speed of services when HS3 is completed which will bring high speed lines as far north as Wigan (not the obvious end point one might think) but thereafter improved track and infrastructure on the existing WCML route to Preston and then north to Glasgow will be further enhanced - etc etc. Kirkham station may well become an important interchange from the south Fylde line with the potential for tram train operation taking over at some point running directly on to and into Blackpool and beyond. Quite interesting times ahead for this part of the Northern Powerhouse.
Image courtesy of HQ UK Land Forces.