Conservatives call for cross-party bid to stop Woolwich Barracks closure

Conservative councillors in Greenwich have called for a cross-party bid to reverse a Ministry of Defence decision to close Woolwich Barracks in 2028.

The closure of the Barracks, which date back to the 18th century, was announced earlier this month in the Ministry of Defence ‘A Better Defence Estate’ Strategy, as one of 91 military sites due to close by 2040.

In the wake of the announcement, Greenwich Conservatives have formally submitted a motion for next month’s Council which, if agreed by a majority of councillors, would “call on the Ministry of Defence, across political party lines, to reconsider this element of its plans and ensure the continued use of the Woolwich Barracks as part of the Armed Forces estate”.

The nine-strong opposition Conservative Group have asked Labour councillors to back the motion, to ensure that the local community speaks with one voice to continue the Army’s 300-year connection with Woolwich and the wider borough.

The motion, to be proposed and seconded by Conservative councillors Matt Hartley and John Hills, also covers preparing for all eventualities, and puts down a marker on protecting the site’s heritage and ensuring the maximum possible affordable housing in any development on the site in the event that the closure does go ahead in 2028.

Councillor Matt Hartley, Leader of Greenwich Conservatives, said: “It is hard to imagine Woolwich without the Barracks – and it is essential that we work together as a community to persuade the Ministry of Defence to reconsider this element of their plans.

“Given the site’s key location and the relatively recent £50m refurbishment that followed its last reprieve from closure, I would hope that an alternative solution can be found that would ensure a continued use of the Barracks.

“I hope Labour councillors will back our motion at the Town Hall, so that we can speak as one voice on this crucial issue for our area. The council needs to pro-actively engage with the Ministry of Defence to make a strong case – and that case will be stronger if we unite across party lines to make it."

Councillor John Hills, who acts as Greenwich Conservatives' lead on Armed Forces issues, added: “The Barracks have been at the heart of Woolwich since 1802, and our links with the Armed Forces go back even further than that. We need to do everything we can to keep the Army in Woolwich, and persuade the Ministry of Defence to find a good military use of the Barracks well into the future.

“At the same time, we need to prepare for all eventualities – and if the closure does go ahead, it will be crucial to protect the site’s heritage, and ensure that any housing developed includes the maximum amount of affordable housing possible for local people.”

The full text of the motion put down for December's Full Council meeting reads:

This Council opposes the closure of Woolwich Barracks in 2028, announced in the Ministry of Defence's 'A Better Defence Estate' Strategy on 7th November 2016.

The Grade II* listed Barracks have been at the heart of Woolwich since their completion in 1802, and have been a core part of our community's links with the Armed Forces that go back over three centuries.

This Council calls on the Ministry of Defence, across political party lines, to reconsider this element of its plans and ensure the continued use of the Woolwich Barracks as part of the Armed Forces estate. 

This Council further commits to pro-actively engage with the Ministry of Defence and relevant stakeholders to secure a reversal of this decision and keep the Armed Forces in Woolwich.

This Council also believes in the importance of preparing for all eventualities, and therefore notes that that if the Barracks does close, it will be of paramount importance to protect the site's heritage, including the Grade II* listed building itself, the Afghan and Zulu Wars Memorial, the Ha-Ha, Mallet's Mortar, the Rotunda and St George's Garrison Church.

In addition, this Council believes that if the Barracks does close, any housing developed on the site must include the maximum amount of affordable housing possible, given the importance of increasing the supply of affordable housing for local people.