NEW housing, more community facilities and better transport links are key to making sure Helensburgh is ready for a major increase in the area's Royal Navy population.

The forthcoming expansion in the number of people based at Faslane and Coulport, as HM Naval Base Clyde becomes home to the Navy's entire submarine fleet, is expected to see millions of pounds of investment in Helensburgh and its surrounding communities.

The expansion plans led to the signing this week of a formal agreement which will see the Ministry of Defence, Argyll and Bute Council and other local organisations work together to prepare both navy personnel and the wider community for a major change to life in the area.

More facilities are to be provided in the area for community use – including a £2 million refurbishment of the Drumfork Centre in Churchill Square, due to be completed by 2018 – while the MoD's longer-term wish list includes hopes for a new railway station at Shandon for those working at Faslane.

The MoD is also rethinking its plan to build a new all-weather sports facility at Ardenconnel in Rhu, and is instead looking at other sites in the wider area.

On housing, the MoD and the council have already begun to work with the private and social housing sectors to “develop options for choice in the housing market”.

And in education, a 'service pupil adviser' has started work with Argyll and Bute Council, funded by the MoD's education support fund, to provide advice for children of forces personnel in the area.

Commander Jim Hayle, who is leading the MoD's side of the project, said: “Being given formal permission to plan, rather than just talk, is so important for the project.

“If we weren't working together there is the potential for some really negative outcomes, but talking and working together will ensure we can avoid the pitfalls.

“This is about putting money from lots of sources into achieving one overall aim for the benefit of the area.

“We've been talking for many years about what could happen. It now becomes fact.”

The Clyde base will become home to all the UK's attack submarines by 2020, in addition to the Vanguard-class Trident submarines already based in Scotland, resulting in the on-site workforce increasing from 6,800 to 8,200.

A further 1,000 construction jobs could be created as a result of the expansion of the base.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell was one of the signatories to a 'memorandum of understanding' on the issue, which was formally concluded at a ceremony in the town on Monday.