Defence News A new training area for British troops which consists of a rural Middle Eastern village and an urban Middle Eastern complex was officially opened last week at the Stanford Training Area in Norfolk. The new facility will provide all troops deploying on operations with the most advanced and relevant training facilities in the UK. The training facilities, which have cost Â£14m, were designed by the Operational Training Advisory Group (OPTAG) to replicate as closely as possible the situations which troops could face on operations in the Middle East. With the help of Afghan nationals and others who take on the role of insurgents in these training areas OPTAG will be able to replicate the sights, sounds and smells of the Middle East. From the call to prayer heard across a busy market place, and a bustling family home, to a network of claustrophobic alleyways with high walls, the areas provide for a complex and realistic way to train troops and test their skills under demanding conditions. Developed in eight months, amongst the first units to benefit from these new facilities will be 11 Light Brigade as they start their final training next month prior to deploying to Afghanistan in the autumn. General Sir David Richards, Commander-in-Chief Land Forces, said: "These new training facilities mean that we will be giving our soldiers the very best chance to succeed in today's complex operations and return home safely. "We need to provide as realistic an environment as we can for our excellent fighting soldiers. They need to operate from the same type of place that they will use in Afghanistan and be put to the test in as realistic a manner as we can devise. They deserve nothing less. "The project team has succeeded in a very short time frame in doing just that and I am proud that we can now offer today's Armed Forces the facilities they deserve to best equip them for the job we ask of them on operations. Training on these facilities will ensure that UK military personnel will continue to be trained to the highest possible standard prior to active duty." Defence Training Estate takes great care in its stewardship of the training estate and so all work has been done in consultation with the appropriate statutory bodies, including the Breckland Council Planning Committee and Natural England. Suitable measures have been put in place to mitigate the impact on this internationally important wildlife site and to comply with relevant wildlife and planning regulations Vice Admiral Tim Laurence, Chief Executive of Defence Estates, said: "This is a hugely important project for the Defence Training Estate which has been delivered to cost and on time. I am delighted with what has been achieved and pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard to make it happen. The co-operation we have received from the local community has been excellent. We can all be proud to have enhanced operational training at minimum penalty to the environment." Ian Levett of Natural England said: "Natural England has worked in close partnership with the military on this project to ensure that they have been able to fulfil their responsibilities towards nature conservation at the same time as providing their training needs. This is a very special area for wildlife and it is a tribute to the Defence Training Estate that the natural environment has been given the prominence it has, alongside the training requirements." The Stanford Training Area is used for both live firing and non-firing training for 350 days each year. On average 80,000 troops use the area annually. It is envisaged that the new facilities will increase the quality, not the amount, of training carried out on the estate. The present training area comprises 17,346 acres (7,020 hectares) of freehold acquired by the War Department after the Second World War, and a further 3,200 acres (1,295 hectares), formerly parts of the Clermont and Hilborough Estates, which were acquired in 1987 along with the RAF airfields at Watton and Sculthorpe. This adds up to a total of 22,386 acres (9,060 hectares) of freehold with a further 5,215 acres (2,111 hectares) leased or licensed for Army training use. The whole is some 43 square miles (124 square kilometres) and represents over two per cent of the county of Norfolk. Within the training area, making up 30 separate lettings, there are 4,500 acres (1,821 hectares) of land licensed for arable farming. 15,000 acres (6,071 hectares) of land are licensed for grazing, of which 9,500 acres (3,845 hectares) is heathland holding up to 14,000 sheep in summer. In addition there are 4,200 acres (1,700 hectares) of woodland on the estate. Planning permission for the work at the Stanford Training Area was granted by Breckland District Council Planning Committee in August 2008. Natural England assent for the works was received prior to the planning committee decision. The work also included improvements to the northern and southern road infrastructure, replacement of the Bailey Bridge to sustain frequent usage by heavier vehicles, and improvements to the existing Westmere Forward Operating Base. Out of curiosity, was any thought given to building this facity at BATUS? Put the village on the banks of the banks of the South Saskatchewan river, add in some irrigated fields and canals/ditches and you've got a Helmandesque mini-green zone. Then run your battlegroups through as part of their work-up training.