DEFENCE Secretary Gavin Williamson is in Taunton today (Friday) - and he's been so impressed with the town he's vowed to return.

Mr Williamson spent the morning touring the UK Hydrographic Office's new premises, which have been built on site at a cost of £30million.

He was accompanied by Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow as they were given a tour of the new facility and met some of the 850 members of staff.

He then moved on to inspect the 40 Commando Royal Marines based at Norton Manor Camp, in Norton Fitzwarren.

Referring to the UKHO new build, Mr Williamson told the County Gazette: "It's absolutely amazing.

"The UKHO is a world-leading organisation that makes an incredible difference not just to our Royal Navy and what we do in defence of Britain and of so many other nations.

"It allows for free and safe shipping that makes the world go round and brings prosperity to so many nations.

"I'm so proud that they are that world leading organisation."

Quizzed on the potential impact of Brexit on the UKHO, Mr Williamson said: "I don't believe it will have the slightest impact.

"It is one of our largest employers in the South West and is truly an international organisation. I imagine many opportunities will open up after Brexit."

He added: "I'm impressed by what I've seen. It's not just the building - it's the people that are impressive. They have the skills and the technology to bring it all to life."

Before he moved on to Norton Manor Camp, Mr Williamson spoke about the future of the base, which is on a list of military bases set to close in 2028.

"What we have done is made a commitment until 2028," Mr Williamson told the County Gazette. "That's a long commitment.

"In terms of our military, I'm looking at the site to see what uses we can have in future - most sites constantly evolve.

"We've got to look at all of our assets and how best we use them in future."

Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, who accompanied Mr Williamson during the day, said: "The UKHO is a world leading business for marine data gathering and I was delighted the Secretary of State visited and particularly wanted to highlight how we can build on the strength and expertise of the UKHO at the new HQ.

"I'm also working with him to secure a geospatial innovation centre in Taunton which would mean that they can use their knowledge on an even wider scale and allow them to train and employ people in this growing area."

Rear Admiral Tim Lowe, acting chief executive at the UKHO and national hydrographer, said: "We're really honoured that the Secretary of State found time to come and see the team here.

"It's great to show him what we do and how we support defence of our nation."

Talking about the new £30 million building, he added: "It's a fantastic quality building and was delivered on time. We're looking forward to moving in fully."

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