Woolwich Barracks closure raised in Commons after 4,000 sign petition

Woolwich Barracks © Crown Copyright 2013
Woolwich Barracks is a south-east London landmark (© Crown Copyright 2013, used under Open Government Licence)

Local MP Matt Pennycook has raised the fate of Woolwich Barracks in the House of Commons after 4,000 people signed a petition against its closure.

The barracks will close by 2028 under plans outlined by the government in 2016, and the Greenwich & Woolwich MP has been fighting a campaign to keep the historic site open, including hosting a petition on his website.

Yesterday, defence minister Tobias Ellwood announced changes to the Army’s closure programme, and Pennycook asked him if he would look again at the issue of Woolwich Barracks.

“More than 4,000 of my constituents signed a petition opposing the closure of Woolwich barracks, evidence of precisely the bond that the minister and other honourable members have mentioned,” the Labour MP said.

“The minister knows that the decision to dispose of the site was finely balanced. In the light of the decisions he has announced in his statement today, may I urge him to consider another adjustment and revisit the decision to sell off Woolwich barracks?

However, the Conservative minister refused to be drawn on the issue.

“I understand the honourable gentleman is making a strong plea, and I would expect that from the constituency MP. I visited the barracks many, many times and know its history. It is not a part of today’s announcement in any sense, but again I would be happy to meet him to discuss his thoughts,” he said.

Earlier this year, the minister said the Army would work to improve the state of Woolwich Common after criticism that the Ministry of Defence had neglected the open space in front of the barracks, which is still used for exercises.

Time is running out for a final decision on the future of the barracks, the main building of which was completed in 1802. The Royal Artillery moved out in 2007, with the King’s Troop replacing them in 2012 when new “state of the art” equestrian facilities were installed.

Asked at a scrutiny panel meeting in January about the effect of the closure on the local economy, Greenwich Council cabinet member Denise Hyland said she hoped a Labour government being elected “soon” would change matters. “This happened before, when they sold Chelsea instead of Woolwich,” she said.

“Then they spent loads of money doing Woolwich up – only to then announce its closure. But as we move towards 2020, when the regiments change, if they don’t plan for a regiment to come in for 2020, then sure as eggs are eggs, it will – even with a change of government – close in 2022.”

But she added: “Will it affect the economy as such? I don’t know how much the army procure locally. It will obviously hit the retail industry here [in Woolwich], but again, I don’t know. When the King’s Troop came, I met two of them up the road and they asked me where the nearest wine bar was. I was a bit stunned.”

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