BACK in 2016 it was announced that Catterick Garrison – already the biggest British Army base in the world – was to become a “super-garrison” with even more Army units based there.
When this phase of its expansion is complete in 2032, the Garrison will be the third largest settlement in North Yorkshire. Only Harrogate and Scarborough will be bigger.
Recent years have seen some welcome improvements to the Garrison town centre with £500m being spent on better facilities. These have included Princes Gate shopping centre and cinema/restaurant complex which opened in 2015.
But it is also clear that much more needs to be done as the Garrison grows. We will need new medical facilities, schools and housing and I have been in regular dialogue with both the Ministry of Defence, Richmondshire District Council and North Yorkshire County Council to make sure everybody is on the same page and we can work together. I was recently going over things in detail with Garrison Commander Lt Col Joe Jordan and discussing the latest plans.
Firstly, it was good to hear hard numbers about the extra Servicemen and women who will be coming to the Garrison over the next 14 years.
With two Strike Brigades being based there, the numbers will rise from the current 5,700 to 8,400 – an increase of 2,700.
And of course there are the soldiers’ families. Every Serviceman and woman, on average, has 2.1 dependents so that means an additional 5,700 wives, partners and children.
Top of the list of new facilities needed is a new integrated health centre to serve both the military and civilian populations. As well as housing GPs and other medical professionals, ideally it would have the capacity to carry out x-rays and minor surgical procedures on the premises.
The new centre could be built on the site of the old Duchess of Kent military hospital in the centre of the Garrison. I am working with both the Ministry of Defence and the NHS to explore whether this would be possible as it would represent the first of its kind (on this scale) civilian-military medical facility.
A new primary school will be established in the former Darlington College building in Catterick Road and secondary pupils will be catered for at an expanded Risedale Sports and Community College.
There will also have to be more housing - a mix of refurbishment work on existing military accommodation and new build.
This is, of course a sensitive issue, and I was pleased to hear that brownfield land will be used wherever possible. Recently, Richmondshire District Council received additional Government funding for an extra planning officer to help manage this process.
I know traffic is always a concern and analysis is taking place this year to make sure the local road network – particularly the A6136 through the centre - can cope. Among the options being considered are a new Catterick Relief Road.
One thing we should not forget is the powerful boost for the local economy the expansion represents. The spending power of all the salaries of those based at the Garrison with their dependents will amount to almost £500m a year.
There will be great opportunities for North Yorkshire businesses to serve this growing and youthful population and I am working with the local enterprise partnership to see if we can change Ministry of Defence procurement procedures so that local suppliers, of food and drink say, can more easily meet the needs of the new town on their doorstep.
These are exciting times for the Garrison and I will be working hard with all the partner organisations like the MoD and the local councils, to ensure the facilities are in place as the population grows.