Replacing Headley Court with a new military rehabilitation centre in the Midlands will risk wasting specialist expertise and facilities which could benefit injured servicemen and women as well as civilians, according to a local councillor.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced today that Headley Court, the UK’s leading military rehabilitation centre for injured servicemen and women, near Leatherhead, will be replaced by a £300m Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC) at Stanford Hall, near Loughborough, by the end of 2017.
It is understood that the DNRC will share its expertise among military and civilian patients.
In February, Mole Valley Lib Dem councillor David Preedy, who represents Headley, called for Government ministers to engage with the area’s community to ensure all possible uses for Headley Court were investigated before its future role is decided - a call which was dismissed by the area’s MP Sir Paul Beresford who said it was too early for any discussions to be had on the matter.
Coun Preedy said he believed that an outright closure of Headley Court as a military facility would be under serious consideration by the MoD if a DNRC was approved.
On today’s decision, he said he hopes a rehabilitative role for Headley Court can still be found and that it is now time for local representatives and Mole Valley Council, the planning authority, to consider options for the site.
"There is quite a lot of expertise and specialist civilian staff who can’t just be transferred to the Midlands and, despite how good the facilities will be there, it is a risk that expertise will be lost," he said.
"Staff at Headley Court have won a number of nursing and specialist awards. It would be tragic if that was dissipated.
"There is the Help for Heroes Gym which was built with money raised from public contributions and it would be tragic if it doesn’t have a purpose going forward which is why I would welcome a way in which the facility could continue to be used for rehabilitation.
"Maybe there is a chance that Headley Court can be used for rehabilitation in the South East.
"A lot of Headley Court’s patients live in the North and Midlands so it makes sense for the DNRC to be located at Stanford Hall.
"But once you take the principle of combined military and civilian rehabilitative services it could be that the facilities and expertise can be retained.
"This isn’t a trivial thing, but it needs serious consideration."
Coun Preedy said he does not know what options the Headley Court Trustees - which own the site and will decided on its future - are considering for its future, but that local representatives must get involved in discussions.
He said: "Mole Valley has not been actively involved in the consultation and it’s very unfortunate that we didn’t have any local representatives involved in that.
"It is disappointing that Sir Paul Beresford wasn’t supportive of the council in asking to be involved before any decision was made."
Coun Preedy said he has heard that if the Headley Court site is no longer used for the purpose it was designed for, the Headley Court Trustees would have to return it to its original state.
"The essence of the agreement was that if the site was no longer needed for that purpose, it had to be returned to the state it was when it was handed over to the trustees," he said.
"I don’t know what freedom the trustees have to vary that. But that’s why replacing Headley Court with the DNRC is not trivial.
"There are also 75 houses adjacent to the site which could be classed as part of the land managed by the trustees."
A volunteer connected to Headley Court, who did not want to be named, said: "A lot of civilian staff with expertise will be left behind.
"They will have been given the opportunity to go to the Midlands but many are unlikely to take it.
"The country has lost its appetite for being the world’s policeman.
"There is no public appetite for the types of wars we have been fighting so why do we need a big facility when we have come out of Iraq and are coming out of Afghanistan?"
What do you think about the decision to replace Headley Court and what do you think should be done with it? Contact Hardeep Matharu on 020 8722 6346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.