FOR more than a century British soldiers based at Catterick Garrison have been setting off to serve with distinction around the world.

There’s a significant deployment taking place right now with members of 32 Engineer Regiment heading to the war-ravaged state of South Sudan to help with the United Nations peacemaking mission.

Last Friday I joined International Development Secretary Priti Patel to meet the troops at their Marne barracks base and talk to them about their mission to provide engineering and medical support at UN camps.

Six million people face the daily reality of going without enough food and water in this embryonic African state. Conflict and instability has led to grotesque levels of violence and persecution, and I am pleased to say that Britain is leading the way in providing lifesaving and emergency food, water and medicine to those in need.

I know that our continuing commitment to foreign aid is a diffi- cult issue for many people when tough decisions are being made about public spending, so I think it is very important that people see and are proud of the contributions made by our Armed Forces as part of that effort.

The visit was also a chance to speak to Catterick-based soldiers about life on the Garrison. It was heartening to hear them speak favourably about the recent retail and leisure improvements. Good facilities on the Garrison are important for them, for the nonmilitary community and the local economy.

Immediately before the Minister’s visit, I had spent some time with the new Garrison Commander, Lt Col Joe Jordan, talking about the growth of the base and the additional facilities that will be needed.

Understandably, there has been some concern expressed about how the community will cope with the influx of servicemen and women and their families but I was reassured by Lt Col Jordan’s comments.

One important perspective he offered was about numbers. While the phrase “super garrison” has been used to describe the base’s future size, the number of Service personnel will increase from the current 7,500 to 10,000 over a period over more than ten years.

For each soldier there will be on average 2.1 dependents so the population will grow over that period by just over 7,500.

Work has already started on providing the school places, health and other services that will be needed. For example, three new classrooms are being now being built at Le Cateau primary and there are plans for a new primary school in the impressive former Darlington College building.

There will be a new health centre and Lt Col Jordan also told me about plans for new sports facilities at the existing Robertson Road sports ground and at Wavell Road – all of which will be available for use by the local community.

The careful planning of these developments is taking place with the MoD and local authorities working together. We all want the facilities to come on stream in a timely fashion.

While talking about the Garrison’s infrastructure, I am pleased to see work finally proceeding apace on the junction improvements at the White Shops.

I met the affected traders last month and persuaded Vodafone to bring forward their part of the works. I am still talking to the county council and Vodafone to establish why this 12-week contract has stretched to over a year. The traders deserve an explanation and support.