I was delighted to show the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, around Norton Manor Camp last week to see the base for himself and to really make the case about why they should remain there permanently. Here is my follow-up letter.
Thank you for coming to Taunton on Friday and giving up so much of your time to visit the UKHO and 40 Commando. I hope that you enjoyed your time with us and found the briefings informative. I was pleased you managed to meet so many personnel first hand.
The UKHO is very important to Taunton in terms of its contributions to the local economy. It is one of the many jewels in Taunton’s crown. I would be particularly keen to see a Geospatial Hub/innovation centre located in Taunton building on the marine data gathering expertise of the UKHO and any support you might give to this would be much appreciated.
I have made no secret of the fact that I would like to see 40 Commando remain at Norton Manor Camp and I hope you will agree that there has and continues to be significant investment in the facility. As we heard, the Camp is ideally situated between 2 outload sea ports of Plymouth and Southampton and within easy reach of the Air Mounting Centre at Royal Air Force Brize Norton and the commercial airports of Bristol and Exeter. The camp is central to the major military training areas of Salisbury Plain, Sennybridge and Dartmoor which greatly reduces travel time and costs and indeed the camp has its own training area in Knowle Hill Woods.
No less important is the popularity of Taunton with all ranks and their families, with many deciding to buy a home and settle here in Somerset. It is also popular with younger servicemen as many commute at weekends to towns and cities in England and Wales. Taunton’s location makes this possible. The people of Taunton have a long association with 40 Commando and take great pride in their work and in recognition have given them the freedom of the town.
I understand that there will be an update on the MOD Estate Rationalisation shortly and I hope that when the time comes to consider further the options for the Camp that you will remember your visit and the importance of Taunton to 40 Commando and indeed 40 Commando to Taunton. Crucially, however, please consider the financial implications moving 40 Commando would place on the Ministry of Defence. All things being equal, best value for money may be to leave them where they are given the significant investment in the facilities which has taken place recently. Significantly, over £50 million has been invested at Norton Manor Camp over the last two decades to transform the site. This makes it absolutely fit for purpose for 40 Commando. Recent developments include: a new HQ and mess; logistic workshop facility; a gym and rehab centre; accommodation; astroturf and firing range; and a family wellbeing centre (£3/4 million) that is about to open. Importantly too – the underground services have been completely overhauled and are second to none. It would be hard to find comparable services elsewhere ready for 40 Commando to move into.
Finally, it was mentioned that there was a piece of unused Ministry of Defence land nearby in Norton Fitzwarren which potentially is of development value. Perhaps, this might be explored further.
Very many thanks again for your time and interest and I look forward to meeting you again soon.
Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane