AS THE ink was drying on a £600m maintenance contract for the naval base in Portsmouth, work to prepare this dock for future work was already nearing completion.
It may not look like much, but the work on Dock 15 marks the start of more than 15 years of upcoming work to modernise the naval base and make way for the Royal Navy’s two gargantuan new aircraft carriers.
It was once used by BAE Systems’ shipbuilding division, but now the firm has closed down those operations, the dock is being prepared to take warships for maintenance and repair.
City leaders, senior naval officers and business leaders have today hailed the start of a transformation of the city’s naval base.
It comes on the back of yesterday’s signing of a £600m deal between the government and BAE’s maritime services division to secure work in the city for the next five years.
The contract, announced by the Ministry of Defence, covers the mangement of the naval base estate, as well as warship repair, maintenance and upgrades.
It has secured the future of 2,000 workers at the base, plus a further 2,000 estimated to be part of the wider supply chain.
Commodore Jeremy Rigby, the commander of Portsmouth Naval Base, told The News he now wants to see every square foot of the naval base put to use.
‘This is another of the key building blocks that demonstrates the confidence everyone should have in the future of Portsmouth going forward,’ he said.
‘We can now concentrate on working on the projects that need to be completed as we turn this into a 21st century naval base.
‘This has got the investment coming in to it that will make it an operational naval base until at least the end of the century and that is a very exciting place to be
‘We will be filling every square foot of the naval base over the coming years. The work on Dock 15 is the first real piece of the jigsaw puzzle.’
Because of the sheer size of the new carriers —the biggest ever built for the Royal Navy — space needs to be found for the existing Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates and expected Type 26 frigates.
Areas once used for maintenance and repair now need to be freed up, so Dock 15 is being put to use as a new maintenance area.
A new crane system has been installed to help with the work and it is expected warships will be able to use the dock from this month.
BAE Systems says the completion of dock work marks a significant milestone in the infrastructure upgrades to the base.
James Davis, the naval base services director for BAE, said: ‘This is very much real now.
‘This is getting the base ready for the next generation of complex warships.
‘We know the first carrier is coming here in just over two years now.
‘It is fantastic news for Portsmouth.’
The announcement yesterday that the government was awarding a £600m contract to BAE in Portsmouth came as part of a package of investment in naval bases across the country, totalling £3.2bn.
Critics said the news was to be expected, as warships obviously have to be maintained.
But the leader of Portsmouth City Council, Councillor Donna Jones, said it was by no means a done deal.
‘£350m had to be saved from the contract and it was possible that Portsmouth could have lost those 2,000 jobs,’ she said.
‘Therefore it is really good news. Anyone saying this was a done deal is absolutely wrong.
‘We have had to work hard to protect these jobs for Portsmouth.’
For apprentices who work at BAE Systems in Portsmouth, the announcement yesterday was welcome news.
It means security in their trade at the end of a troubled 12 months for the city, after the announcement shipbuilding was to cease operations in November last year.
Lewis Bate, 21, is a second year apprentice.
He said: ‘We weren’t worrying too much but now that the news has come out I think it has relaxed everyone a bit more.
‘I know there will be opportunities coming up now so that is a relief.
‘I always wanted to do something like this because I wanted a job that was hands on. Now I know I can do it.
‘Hopefully I will go on after my apprenticeship to work on the ships and hopefully even the carriers.’
The contract, called the Maritime Support Delivery Framework, will run until 2019 and provides a partnering agreement between BAE Systems, the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence.
Cdre Rigby added: ‘The contract will keep the base running at the highest standards and will ensure our ships are in the best possible condition and operating at the highest capability.
‘It has sustained more than 2,000 jobs at the base and many more in the supply chain.
‘This announcement comes at an exciting time for Portsmouth Naval Base as we prepare for the arrival of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.’
The contract includes the management of the Portsmouth Naval Base estate on behalf of the Royal Navy, delivering everything that is needed to live and work on the base such as planning, engineering, hard facilities management, programme management and estates services covering energy, waterfront and logistics.