Uncertainty over future after Government restructuring plans pave way for Truro platoon to move to North Devon

BARNSTAPLE'S Territorial Army Centre faces an uncertain future following the announcement of nationwide restructuring plans yesterday (Wednesday).

The town's association with the Royal Wessex Yeomanry is set to end by 2016 when D Squadron is relocated to Exeter and Paignton.

Instead Barnstaple is set to become home to reservists from the Truro-based platoon of the 6th Battalion of Rifles.

The restructure outlined in the Government's Future Reserves White paper is designed to better streamline the training regimes of the regular Army and the TA, which will be renamed the Army Reserves.

The paper also announced that the number of Reserves will grow from 20,000 to 30,000 by 2018, while the regular Army will be cut from 100,000 to 80,000 as part of the £1.8billion plans.

Barnstaple troops form part of one of Devon's oldest regiments and provide replacement crew to the regular Army on the Challenger II Main Battle Tank.

An Army spokesman told the Gazette that highly professional soldiers would 'not be put off by a bit of driving'.

He said: "The reality for reserves in Barnstaple is people who are currently Yeomanry can become Riflemen or remain in their squadron and continue at Exeter or Paignton.

"The reserve force is strong and it is a natural move.

"This is a good news story for the South West. Regular units will now be paired with reserve units, and the 6th Rifles will be affiliated with the 1st Rifles.

"It's a positive to move to make them a whole because of the types of training they do."

Speaking at yesterday's announcement in Wiltshire, Lieutenant Colonel Neville Holmes of the 6th Rifles, said: "There are some basing challenges which we will face but there are also some real basing plus points."

But Colonel Christopher MacGregor of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry was slightly less sure the plans could be successfully implemented.

He said: "How this washes out will depend on the practical reality of where we have soldiers and where we can keep them.

"There's no point in us going to Exeter if there's nowhere to go.

"I would like to see Army Reserves remain in North Devon. I know that the building is owned by the reserve forces and cadets association and they are not going to close it.

"We either need a new TA centre for the Wessex Yeomanry in Exeter or they need to identify somewhere for that regiment to go but if we don't, we should remain in Barnstaple as the soldiers have been trained at great expense.

"What no one wants to do is damage the growth of the TA.

"The fact that it's three and a half years away means we don't know what's going to happen.

"If there is a bespoke training centre in Exeter with room for a Challenger II tank then Exeter would be better for the Army of 2030 and onwards."

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the company's future, Col MacGregor is still calling on new recruits to join them.

"We are still recruiting in Barnstaple and I am still training them to be tank crewmen and will continue to invest in them.

"We've still been recruiting well and this is a vibrant and healthy organisation."