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Mr. Soames: Proposals for a defence helicopter flying school were issued on 8 December in a consultation document. During the consultation period, my Department received 14 responses to our proposals.
All these responses have received careful and sympathetic scrutiny. There have been understandable local concerns but widespread general support for the main thrust of the proposals. No significant new defence related arguments have, however, emerged, nor have any new suggestions been made which have caused us to alter our original proposals.
I can therefore confirm that we shall now move to develop our plans along the lines indicated in the consultative document. We shall establish a single tri-service school to provide pre-operational helicopter flying training at Shawbury with effect from April 1997. Training undertaken by 705 Naval Air Squadron at Culdrose will move to the joint school in 1997. However,
Column 351I am pleased to announce that the Royal Navy's fleet requirement and air direction unit will move to Culdrose in December this year when the existing contract at Yeovilton comes to an end. This will help to ensure that Culdrose continues to operate at a very high capacity and its long-term future remains assured as the main operating base of the Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopter. I am also pleased to confirm that Middle Wallop will remain the home of Army aviation with responsibility for operational training on all Army aircraft. Moving the Army basic helicopter training to the defence helicopter flying school has released space at Middle Wallop. I can
Column 352therefore confirm that, in line with our policy of consolidating defence activities, Army activity at Netheravon will be relocated with all Army Air Corps flying moving to Middle Wallop. Netheravon itself will remain in the defence estate and possible alternative uses are being considered.
Much work needs to be done in order to establish the defence helicopter flying school at Shawbury in 1997 and we have therefore put in place a team to effect all elements of the implementation process. We shall continue to consult the trades unions on the details of our plans as they unfold.