MPs in row over where to base navy’s frigates

An MoD image of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship
An MoD image of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship
Shell - James Martin with the piece of shell which hit HMS Baham during the first world war. In the background is a photograph of the ship

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BATTLE lines have been drawn between Portsmouth and Plymouth MPs in a row about where the Royal Navy’s new frigates should be based.

The Ministry of Defence is expected to order 13 new Type 26 warships in 2015, with a view to the frigates coming into service from 2020.

The navy this week released its latest, final design of what the vessels will look like.

But no decision has been made about where the ships will be built or based.

This led to Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, to declare: ‘The battle to secure these ships starts today.’

Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, also told the Plymouth Herald: ‘It’s only right we should have the new generation of frigates at Devonport.

‘It’s not too soon to be pushing for this vessel to be base-ported at Plymouth rather than Portsmouth.’

And Plymouth City Council leader, Cllr Tudor Evans, said he had recently lobbied the Prime Minister on the issue when he visited the city for Armed Forces Day in June.

Portsmouth MPs Penny Mordaunt and Mike Hancock are being equally robust in stating the case for their own city.

And Ms Mordaunt yesterday urged her Plymouth counterparts to end the war of words.

She said: ‘When we had the naval base review, Plymouth’s MPs took the attitude that this was out-and-out war, but actually that is a counter-productive stance to take.

‘What we should be arguing about is where these ships should be based from a strategic point of view. Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet, so it makes strategic sense to base these new ships in Portsmouth.

‘There should be no doubt about that and I think ministers agree. Instead of creating false arguments, which do not make sense at all, Plymouth’s politicians should be talking about the things that are unique to them.

‘Plymouth has submarines, FOST (the navy’s operational sea training school), and the amphibious ships.

‘They should concentrate on the fact they have the Royal Marines in nearby Lympstone which makes strategic sense to keep the amphibious ships down there.

‘The government has committed to having three bases – Portsmouth, Plymouth and Faslane – so now we’ve got to make the best use of them.

‘I will always argue that the surface fleet should be based in Portsmouth – not because I’m a Portsmouth MP, but because it makes strategic sense to do so.’

Mr Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, said: ‘The natural home for the Type 26s should be Portsmouth, and the natural place for them to be built should be in Portsmouth too.’

The Type 26 frigates will replace the navy’s 13 Type 23 frigates.

Seven of the 13 Type 23s are based in Devonport, and six in Portsmouth.

The News understands defence firm BAE Systems, which is due to build the Type 26s, has already urged the MoD to base the new ships in Portsmouth.

This is because BAE wishes to expand its ship repair and maintenance division, which employs 1,700 people at Portsmouth Naval Base.

This could off-set job losses in BAE’s 1,300-strong Portsmouth shipbuilding yard once work on the navy’s aircraft carriers ends in 2014.