THE nation’s defence secretary has admitted the move to get Magma Structures into Portsmouth dockyard ‘has been slow’.
Minister Michael Fallon made the statement during a trip the Portsmouth Naval Base this morning.
It comes as work to dredge the city’s harbour, in readiness for the new Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers, looks set to begin later this week.
Speaking to The News, the former minister for Portsmouth conceded the deal to move the composite structure giant into the disused shiphall had taken longer than expected.
He said: ‘It’s a commercial negotiation and it has been slow but I hope it can be brought to a conclusion soon.’
Critics have claimed the decision to axe shipbuilding from the city has resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs.
Portsmouth gains from hosting an expanding navy and I hope the negotiations with Magma over the shiphall can be progressed.Michael Fallon, defence secretary
However, Mr Fallon brushed these criticisms aside saying the introduction of the new aircraft carrier will boost the city’s prospects.
‘There are more jobs coming; unemployment has fallen here,’ he said.
‘Portsmouth is one of our biggest naval bases and will continue to grow.
‘There will be more opportunities for smaller companies in the repair and maintenance of all these ships.
‘So Portsmouth gains from hosting an expanding navy and I hope the negotiations with Magma over the shiphall can be progressed.’
During his visit to the city, Mr Fallon did announce that a new £13.5m contract had been awarded to BAE Systems for 60 new Pacific 24 Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs).
The deal will mean that 19 jobs within the defence company’s Portsmouth HQ would be secured for the next four years.
Once completed, the state-of-the-art RIBs will be used as rapid response craft to perform fast rescue, anti-piracy and counter-narcotics missions.
The boats can travel of speeds of up to 38 knots (44mph) and has a new suspension system on its seats to which will allow crews to operate in them for longer.
The RIBs would operate from the carriers.
The first aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is expected to arrive in Portsmouth in early 2017.
To prepare the naval base for her arrival, more than £100m has been pumped into refurbishing the site, which includes dredging the harbour, constructing a reinforced jetty, install new high-voltage power systems, and building new logistics hubs to deal with the carrier.
Naval base commander, Commodore Jeremy Rigby said the work was the ‘biggest in a generation’ and would secure the base’s future for the next century.
Once completed, the 65,000 tonne carrier will be taller than Nelson’s Column and one and half times the length of the Spinnaker Tower laid on its side.
To accommodate her vast size, more than 300m cubic metres of clay, sand and gravel will be removed from more two miles of Portsmouth Harbour.
Preparation work has already begun on this, which saw the unearthing of a German Second World War mine earlier this month.
The dredging project is expected to begin on Thursday.