North Devon Council’s overview and scrutiny committee was joined by North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones and his predecessor Nick Harvey

North Devon Council has started work on a contingency plan should RMB Chivenor close.

The council's overview and scrutiny committee were joined by North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones, his predecessor Nick Harvey and former UKIP chairman Steve Crowther for a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the future of the Chivenor site.

It was announced in November the Royal Marines would leave their North Devon base by 2027 as part of the Government's Better Defence Estate strategy.

However, last month Defence Secretary Michael Fallon left the door open for Royal Marines remaining at the site, saying 'no final decisions' had been made on the closure.

Scrutiny chairman Councillor Brian Greenslade said: This is a starting block. If we can keep military presence at Chivenor, that's what we want to do.

"We feel the benefit of them in our community, they enrich our community.

"Equally we understand the loss of their spending power in our community is not good news for North Devon."

Mr Heaton-Jones said Mr Fallon's comments last month were a 'significant change and a moving of the goalposts', but said the door should not be closed on a change of use for some of the land.

He said: "He stopped, looked and listened and what he said was very different from what he had previously said, leaving the door open to future use for Chivenor, which the Ministry of Defence had, until then, not suggested. I felt that was significant.

"A change of use of some or all of the land presents North Devon with a big opportunity and we shouldn't be closing the door to that at this stage."

Mr Harvey also believed the Government's decision may have changed, but said there needed to be public sector investment at the site should the worst happen.

"They make big announcements in the House of Commons and then work out how they are going to do it later," he said.

"We shouldn't give up on at least some of the existing use being retained. I didn't believe it at the time but I do after subsequent investigation.

"If we can't get another military presence I seriously urge efforts to fund some other public sector use, because beyond that it's hard to see how we would attract investment.

"It won't fill the whole site and housing has some potential but the flood issue will be quite expensive to mitigate."