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Closure of RAF base leads to a booming population rise

IT once had two RAF bases, which together employed more than 5,700 personnel and contributed £158 million every year to the local economy.

BRANCHING OUT: Former flight sergeant Jim Mailer left the RAF after 25 years and set up business as a tree surgeon, a job he 'loves to bits'.
BRANCHING OUT: Former flight sergeant Jim Mailer left the RAF after 25 years and set up business as a tree surgeon, a job he 'loves to bits'.

But fears the departure of the RAF from Kinloss would damage Moray appear to be unfounded.

Service personnel leaving the force and setting up businesses locally is one of the main reasons the local authority area now has the fastest-growing population in Scotland.

The number of people living there increased by more than five times the national average between mid-2012 and mid-2013.

Growth is also well ahead of neighbouring Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands, the statistics from the General Register Office for Scotland show. Moray's population increased by 1.6 per cent from 92,910 to 94,350. The national average was 0.3 per cent.

The businesses established by those leaving the RAF with resettlement packages have ranged from a micro brewery and a cattery to firms offering dog grooming, public relations and tree surgery.

In October 2010 Moray was left reeling after confirmation that RAF Kinloss was no longer required as an air base, and a huge question mark was put over RAF Lossiemouth's future.

A study published earlier that year by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) showed that RAF Kinloss supported 2341 jobs on the base and in the wider community, and contributed £68m to the local economy every year.

Lossiemouth supported a further 3370 jobs, and contributed £90.3m annually. If both closed, the study found, Moray would be in deep social and economic trouble.

However, Lossiemouth became the base for the new Typhoon squadrons. The first arrived from RAF Leuchars last month, with the second squadron scheduled to transfer from Fife in the autumn.

Kinloss is now a Royal Engineers base, to which 700 personnel have moved from Waterbeach Barracks near Cambridge. Their families bring the total to about 1,000, significantly fewer that in the RAF days.

Jim Mailer, a former flight sergeant on the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, left the RAF after 25 years and used his redundancy package to set up business as a tree surgeon. He is pleased he made the move. Mr Mailer said: "Love it to bits. Must be off my head."

James Johnston, vice-chairman of Moray Economic Partnership, has established a business consultancy since leaving his role as Kinloss's station commander. He said: "After some very difficult years for Moray, these figures are a hugely positive sign of the resilience of the region's economy.

"There are four key reasons for the upward trend. Firstly, like myself, many people who left the RAF when the service pulled out of Kinloss haven't left the area - they have remained and set up new businesses.

"Secondly, these new ­businesses attract people who can provide skills not currently available to the region. Thirdly, transition to the RAF Typhoon squadrons at Lossiemouth is bringing new faces to the area.

"And finally, the quality of life here in Moray-Speyside is second to none. Part of the growth is down to people exploiting that fact by living here and commuting to work in Aberdeen or Inverness."

Allan Wright, leader of Moray Council, said a significant number of highly trained MoD staff found eager employers in the oil and gas energy industry, while others either found work locally or started up their own businesses. This had meant that although the numbers of MoD personnel at Kinloss shrank to 700, the net effect had been an increase."

In addition, energy and technology industries that might have formerly been based in Aberdeen had been attracted to Moray, benefitting from lower costs and a skilled labour pool, he said.

David Oxley, area manager for HIE in Moray, said the population growth demonstrated that Moray had a strong economy and was a good place to live and work.

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