IT has been announced Taunton will continue to be home to the 40 Commando Royal Marines.

Following numerous campaigns, petitions, letters and other community outreach to stop the camp from closing in 2028, it looks like the Secretary of State for Defence had a change of heart.

The Norton Manor camp was originally outlined to be closed in 2028, or so said the government bosses in 2016, but it was announced yesterday (February 28) the marines are here to stay. ]

But what influenced MP Gavin Williamson's decision, and what's the reaction to the closure.

Your County Gazette sat down to interview the Defence Secretary, MP for Taunton Rebecca Pow, and lieutenant colonel Paul Maynard, Royal Marines.

Somerset County Gazette:

SUPPORT: Brigade Commander Matt Jackson, 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, MP for Taunton Rebecca Pow, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, and lieutenant colonel Paul Maynard Royal Marines

Here's what they had to say:

Tell me about how you came to this decision?

GW: The real reason I came to the decision is I had the opportunity, RP has been raising the issue for some time now, ever since I became sec of state for defence and its one of those things you are always looking at and the AF are always looking at how they deploy and where their bases are.

Rebecca was very keen for me to visit and just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity and to visit the UKHO in Taunton.

When I came here it became very apparent to me this was a base, a camp, that had an awful lot of value to what the Royal Marines were doing.

It was highly valued by the Royal Marines and combined with looking more broadly I felt it was important to keep this as part of our estate.

Our Royal Marines are very much the tip of our spear, a global force ready to operate anywhere in the world.

It’s very important those who give so much have the right type of accommodation, and the right type of place to be based.

After meeting with no just Rebecca down in Taunton, but also some of the other councillors the sense of how important the Royal Marines were to the whole community was so incredibly evident. That combine with the key thing, military need, I feel this was absolutely the right decision.

What’s your reaction to the public response you received, in the form of letters and petitions etc?

GW: It went to show the important the local community place on this base. The presence of the Royal Marines in Taunton. It’s got to be based on what is right for the Royal Marines and keeping the camp is what it right, over and above anything else. But it has the happy and good bonus, when I have had Rebecca’s petitions and countless meetings with her, it was quite obvious there was also the community that wanted to put its arms quite clearly around the Royal Marines and made sure they understood they had a long-term home and a community that would always welcome them.

Somerset County Gazette:

RESPONSE: Gavin Williamson answering a question 

Has the ability to sell the land had anything to do with your decision, ie if you were unable to sell it because it was donated ‘in trust’ or something similar?

GW: Not even the vaguest consideration was given. You’re the first person to ever mention that to me so not even a consideration, nothings ever been mentioned, and, as I say, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that.

Ms Pow mentioned there is potentially other MoD land which could be sold for housing?

GW: You can understand the MoD has one job, and that is to defend our country, our people, our interests. We aren’t an organisation invested in owning land so if we have surplus land we would look to dispose of that as best we can do. We are not a land bank so we are always looking for opportunities to dispose of surplus land. But Norton Manor Camp is absolutely essential to the job that we do.

At previous events you’ve mentioned how proud you are to call Taunton your home. How does it feel to be able to keep calling Taunton past 2028?

PM: The Royal Marines is a global force, we are here to defend the nation, not Somerset. We will go wherever we are told to go. But, having said that, we are delighted we are going to be staying here.

Since we moved here 35 years ago, 47 marines have died in the service of the UK. They are all recognised in Vivary Park and over those generations the local community has been there every step of the way and it has created very close bonds. We can continue to live here, invest in the local economy, send our children to school here, work in the local businesses, I think that’s just a great thing that is going to continue.

Somerset County Gazette:

DECISION: County Gazette reporter Amy Cole interviewing Gavin Williamson, Rebecca Pow and Paul Maynard 

Rebecca – anything to add?

RP: One of the things that really struck me is that obviously the Defence Review has been carried out for a number of years, the estate has to work to deliver for the armed forces, to provide them with the best facilities they possibly can to do their job. It’s right that is looked at, and that’s two per cent of the land area the MoD own, that’s a huge amount of land, so they have to make that work properly.

While I understood the original decision about Norton Manor Camp, it was actually to do with the investment and the money, which is one of the reasons I approached the SoS to come and look at what was going on here.

A great deal of money has already been invested here, more than £50million, and to move them, it seemed you were going to have to spend more money to move them. That was one of the planks in the argument. If you’re looking for value for money for the taxpayer, as well as the RM, it seemed very sensible to build on what we’ve got here.

It’s a wonderful enterprise with all of its facilities, the gym, the wellbeing centre about to open, the investment in the economy, the vehicle maintenance workshop. I talked to some of the lads there and they said this is one of the best facilities they get to work in. They told me how good this place was to them.

That was the case we were building. While a petition is useful and it demonstrates the local commitment, decisions aren’t made on the basis of petitions, they are made on these much more serious planks, which is what is right for the marines going forward and also what is value for the MoD and the taxpayer.

GW: I think that’s an important point, because, like any government department, sometimes you have to make difficult and tough decisions. There has to be common sense and logic that sits behind those decisions.

For me, it’s good common sense and it’s a very logical thing to make the decision we have in terms of keeping Norton Manor Camp open.

It’s an important investment we are making in the Royal Marines. We see the world evolving incredibly quickly and the threats increasing incredibly quickly. The Royal Marines play a really important role in terms of combatting those threats. I think everyone in Taunton can be very proud of that role.

If you think about the role the MoD plays in Taunton and the local area, it’s massive. We are the largest employer of anyone in the area by the time you take the UKHO, those who are based here at the camp and the civilian staff who come in and support and the contractors.

We like to think we are contributing in a real positive way to the local economy.

What Rebecca has done in terms of campaigning and making those arguments to the value of Norton Manor Camp is an enormous economic boost for Taunton and the surrounding area for generations to come.