FRESH calls are being made for a new shipyard occupier to be found as BAE Systems completes its final project in Portsmouth — the load-out of a giant block of HMS Prince of Wales.
Yesterday, the section was moved out of the ship hall and on to a barge, marking the end of the city’s years of work on the carrier project.
It will now be welded to the barge before a five-day move to Rosyth, Scotland, begins next Tuesday.
Following the announcement of the shipyard’s closure last November, resulting in 940 jobs being axed, work began to reduce the number of people being forced into redundancy.
But a new occupier for the site is still to be found.
Lambert Smith Hampton, one of the government’s approved commercial property agents, was given the role of finding suitable tenants for the site earlier this year.
A spokeswoman for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which is part of the Ministry of Defence, said no timescale is yet in place for a decision to be made on the new occupier.
She said: ‘The DIO is currently awaiting a report from our marketing agents detailing expressions of interest.
‘Once this is received we will evaluate the expressions of interest and respond in due course.
‘We are not able to provide further information on timescales at this point.’
However, Robin Dickens, director of Lambert Smith Hampton, told The News a report was submitted to the government last week.
He said: ‘We have got ongoing interest and are in regular contact with the interested parties. I am still positive we will find a new occupier.’
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, has been one of the voices leading calls for a new occupier to be found.
She said: ‘It has been a poignant moment that the last block is going out but I think we are now in a much better position to when the news was announced last year.
‘We are in a very good position now. There are some major players who want to go into the shipyard.
‘We have managed to find jobs and give redundancies so we are looking at about 200 more people who have not had their situation resolved.
‘We have had a huge amount of investment in the maritime and marine and defence sectors.
‘Eight businesses have put forward serious bids to come into the shipyard.
‘We have done a huge amount in a short amount of time. The future looks very positive going forward.
‘We need to get a new business into the shipyard as soon as possible.
‘We are now confident that shipbuilding is going to continue in the city.
‘This has not just happened by accident. It has happened with a methodical push from all sorts of people.
‘I am due to have a meeting with Michael Fallon and other ministers about getting a new business into the shipyard when Parliament returns. We want someone to be in place by the end of the year to take over the shipyard in 2015.’
Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council and a director of Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said she hopes the site will be chosen for the government’s National Large Structures Composites Centre, which will build large-scale infrastructure. The government is currently considering sites for the centre.
She said: ‘It’s very sad to see the end of any industry, especially shipbuilding, which has been in Portsmouth for the last 500 years.
‘But it is a really exciting opportunity for the city to take a new direction in the scientific and technology sectors, particular in defence.
‘I would like to see the new Large National Composites Centre there.
‘I have written to ministers about this. If Portsmouth is chosen as the home, this will be an absolutely brilliant thing for the city.’
A steering group set up by the LEP last month, the Solent Marine and Maritime Steering Group, is currently looking at the feasibility of the composites centre being based in the region.
Prospect union negotiator and Labour group leader on the city council, Councillor John Ferrett, has been helping workers since the announcement last year.
He said: ‘There is a lot of pride at what has been achieved by workers in this city, not just for the aircraft carrier but for other naval ships. There is a lot of pride by sadness, too.
‘As much as we have fought to keep shipbuilding in the city, it appears it has now gone.’
Great facility can be used again
THE chairman of the recently-formed Solent Marine and Maritime Steering Group says now is the time for a new business to be chosen to take over the shipyard.
Brian Johnson, who is BAE Systems Naval Ships’ UK development director, described yesterday as a ‘sad but exciting’ day.
He said: ‘The group has been set up as a result of the report commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to look at future industrial employment in the marine sector in the Solent area.
‘It’s to pull together the councils, local groups and sectors to make sure decisions are made for the whole sector.
‘The classic example is this building here, the shipyard. This is the sort of thing we are looking at.
‘It would be a shame if a new occupier wasn’t found. Both BAE and the local council and the LEP are doing the best we can to make sure somebody makes use of this facility.
‘It has been a great facility for us and it is ready for someone else to use, and I know there are several companies that have viable plans who can make use of it.
‘We hope someone can move in reasonably quickly. We, BAE, have to hand it back to the Ministry of Defence and they will re-lease it. We hope next year someone else will make use of the facility.’
Future of second carrier remains to be decided
THE future of HMS Prince of Wales will be decided in next year’s strategic defence and security review.
The carrier will be completed, but it is not yet clear if it will be mothballed or put into service.
Former defence secretary Philip Hammond told The News last month the Queen Elizabeth class project, valued at £6.2bn, was ‘good value for money’.
‘Having two aircraft carriers means we would always have one on standby,’ he said.
‘It will be a final decision that has to be made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
‘But they will have 50 years life in them each.
‘The cost is significantly less than it costs in the US.
‘I think they are very good value for money.’
Last night, the Ministry of Defence said the new secretary of state, Michael Fallon, shared the views of Mr Hammond.
A delicate procedure
LOADING the 6,000-tonne block on to a barge to transport her to Scotland is a huge operation.
Paul Bowsher, Queen Elizabeth Class project leader, explains how the block will be delivered to her new home: ‘We are loading out lower block two of the carrier which needs to be finished off in Rosyth.
‘The block is being lowered out on to the barge. That can take up to 10 hours itself, getting her on to the barge.
‘As we gradually move her out, we have to balance the barge to keep everything as it should be.
‘Once we have completed that, we are going to weld her on to the barge, which itself will take eight days.
‘She is then prepared to travel up to Rosyth. On August 26, we are then going to squeeze her out through the lock. On the evening of the 26th, she will start her five-day travel to Scotland.
‘Then she will be taken by tug all the way there up the English Channel.
‘They will cut off the weld when she gets there.
‘The barge is semi-submergible so it will sink into the estuary, allowing the block to float off.
‘Once she is off they can place her in the dock and they can start the aircraft carrier.
‘There are three sections of the carrier that are too large to be lifted by the crane. They are steered into position.
‘Colleagues on the Clyde already have another block and another will be ready next year. They will be lined up next to each other and have the blocks placed on top of them.
‘There are 26 pieces that make up this aircraft carrier.
‘These are the biggest ships we have built for the Royal Navy. They are the nation’s flagships. They could move up to 500 miles a day and give the Royal Navy what we need around the world, whether it’s disaster relief or fighting if we need to.’
More than 450 take redundancy
MORE than 70 per cent of workers have taken voluntary redundancy, found a new job or retired since BAE Systems announced its closure of Portsmouth’s shipyard last November.
To date, 468 people have taken voluntary redundancy, 180 people redeployed in new roles, and 25 taken retirement.
So far, 75 people have been made compulsorily redundant.
Around 200 people are yet to be dealt with and more compulsory redundancies could be made.
A further 250 BAE Systems Naval Ships’ employees will remain in Portsmouth shipyard, mainly working in the Type 26 engineering team and as combat systems engineers.
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