Satellite map images © Google 2018.
The papers are full of reports that the government is preparing to stockpile food for the event of a no-deal Brexit. But is it possible to use land ownership data to track down where such stockpiles might be held?
On Friday, The Times reported that “the government has begun detailed planning on food supplies if Britain leaves [the EU] without a deal”, and “has identified a number of sites for massive hangars to stockpile food, including one near Carlisle”. Yesterday, the Telegraph and other papers followed this up with reports that the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would employ a military planner to “assess where food supplies can be stockpiled on Ministry of Defence land to ensure that there are no shortages in rural areas.”
Armed with these two pieces of information, I did some investigating. First port of call was to check the latest Land Registry Corporate & Commercial data (last updated start of December) – but no government department appears to have bought land near Carlisle recently. And given that ‘Brexit day’ – 29th March 2019 – is only three months away, surely any serious stockpile preparations would require the use of existing warehouses, rather than building new ones from scratch.
So what land does the government already own in the vicinity of Carlisle? On Who Owns England’s map, MOD land is shown in black, while land owned by other Whitehall departments is depicted in orange. There are various locations near Carlisle:
But most of the orange sites are National Nature Reserves owned by Natural England: not so promising for big warehouses. The two that aren’t nature reserves are the Chapelcross nuclear site just over the border into Scotland, and the Foot and Mouth Disease burial site at Watchtree, where the carcasses of half a million sheep, cattle and pigs were buried after the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak. Neither exactly places where you’d want to stockpile food.
The MOD sites, however, look more promising. ISS Radio Anthorn is dominated by thirteen radio transmission masts, whilst Eastriggs Explosive Storage Depot on the Solway Firth is sealed off due to contamination, so we can probably discount both of those. But then we come to the Defence Munitions site at Longtown.
MOD Longtown has been a site for manufacturing and storing ammunition since World War One. And, as Google satellite imagery shows, it has dozens of storage sheds and three massive hangars:
What’s more, MOD Longtown has storage space going spare. It was saved from outright closure in 2013, but in an effort to bolster its income from the site the MOD put part of it on the market in 2014, including two of the giant hangars. The sales literature boasts of the existing storage space, the potential to develop vacant land for even larger warehouses, and the site’s transport links:
Indeed, MOD Longtown is right next to the M6, and has its own military railway circling the entire site with plenty of sidings. Pretty handy if you’re looking to distribute a food stockpile to post-Brexit Britain’s starving masses.
It appears there was no buyer for MOD Longtown in 2014: the freehold land title remains in the hands of the MOD, and I can’t find any info on the Land Registry’s property finder site about any long leases for the site. So is this where the Government really plans to stockpile food in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Or is it all just a bit of political sabre-rattling to pressure MPs into voting through May’s Brexit deal? Either way, even the vast storage hangars at Longtown wouldn’t do much to offset food shortages if the shit really hit the fan. During the height of the Cold War, MAFF set up a network of 67 ‘buffer depots’ around the country, stocked with supplies to feed the survivors in a post-nuclear-apocalypse Britain. Yet even these preparations, it’s been calculated, wouldn’t have kept food supplies going for long.
Food for thought as we tuck into our xmas dinners.