The government has picked Portsmouth to be the home of a new £4m defence research base, The News can reveal.
Prime minister David Cameron will today announce fresh efforts to cash in on the defence industry by increasing exports of new technology.
And he has set his sights on Portsdown Hill as the base of a £4m Centre of Marine Intelligent Systems.
The centre, to be based at the Portsdown Technology Park in Southwick Road, will be tasked with research into unmanned marine systems such as autonomous boats and submarines.
The government thinks there is more money to be made in defence exports, and estimates the sector can bring in £72bn worth of exports by 2021.
In a letter to The News, Mr Cameron said Portsmouth was the ‘ideal location’ for the new research base.
‘This city has a great maritime history, with centuries of expertise, and I’m delighted that is continuing,’ he said.
‘Academics, scientists, engineers and naval specialists will come together at this centre to develop Britain’s nautical future, including cutting-edge technology for use in autonomous unmanned boats, submarines or other vessels.
‘This is excellent news for Portsmouth. Of course there was great disappointment when BAE Systems relocated its shipbuilding to Scotland.
‘That made me determined for the city to remain a buzzing hub of marine excellence, offering highly-skilled jobs and creating growth.’
City leaders say Portsmouth will now be well-placed to take advantage of the demand, but some have warned it won’t be enough to mitigate shipbuilding job losses until the industry has become better established.
Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, said: ‘It is fantastic that again Portsmouth is proving itself to be the go-to place for research and development and to have this base will mean we can expand that.
‘This is about planning for the future.
‘This industry is really taking off and if we can be at the forefront of that, that would be fantastic.’
Councillor John Ferrett, the leader of the Labour group on Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘It is absolutely welcome if it is going to bring research jobs here and eventually even more jobs in the future.
‘Given our current position any investment we can get here is welcome.’
But Cllr Ferrett also warned it would take time for the industry to grow, and therefore it would not be able to replace the loss of jobs from November’s announcement that the BAE Systems shipyard in Portsmouth would close.
‘Our concern is that people will be lost to the area because inevitably they will be looking to find work elsewhere and we will have a loss of skills,’ he added.
His concerns were echoed by the leader of the Lib Dems in the city, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson.
He said: ‘This announcement is very good news for Portsmouth, but 1,000 guys are losing their jobs as ministers have decided not to intervene.’
But Councillor Donna Jones, the Conservative leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the work done at the Centre of Marine Intelligent Systems will create a billion-pound industry.
She said: ‘It is amazing news, not just for Portsmouth but for the Solent area.
‘This puts Portsmouth on the international stage in terms of defence science and technology.
‘It will really help mitigate the losses from the BAE shipyard. This is an industry that is growing and thriving. It is going to reshape our city.
‘We are going to have an influx of scientists, engineers and companies wanting to work here as companies want to be around cutting-edge
The announcement comes within weeks of the government’s decision to award the Solent area £125m in funds to help with major regeneration schemes across the Portsmouth, Havant, Fareham and Gosport areas.
And before that, David Cameron personally unveiled a £7.5m grant for Sir Ben Ainslie’s plans to build an America’s Cup base — paving the way for it to be built at the Camber docks in Old Portsmouth.
Earlier this year, the region was also granted Assisted Area Status, making authorities here eligible to bid for EU funding.
Minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon said: ‘I’ve been working hard to get Portsmouth chosen as the base for this centre.
‘Assisted Area Status, Ben Ainslie’s base, the Solent Growth deal — its all happening for Portsmouth now.’
At the Farnborough International Airshow today, the prime minister will announce a £1.1bn package of investment in military capabilities, including the money needed to build the Portsdown Hill
The cash will be used to fund Ministry of Defence programmes including cash for unmanned aircraft and new radars for fighter jets.
David Cameron said he would like to visit Portsmouth once the new centre is up and running to see the work.
As part of the construction of the £4m defence research site, the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership will be issuing a call to companies to bid for grants from a £1m fund, to be used in the research and development of unmanned marine systems.
The money will be used to create or safeguard jobs in the area.
Unmanned systems are a booming industry in the defence world.
The Royal Navy uses unmanned underwater vehicles in its efforts around the world to keep shipping lanes clear of mines.
IN FULL: DAVID CAMERON’S LETTER TO THE NEWS
PORTSMOUTH is the city that launched thousands of ships: vessels that defeated the Armada, that triumphed at Trafalgar, that helped win both world wars, and that prevailed in the Falklands.
This city has a great maritime history, with centuries of expertise, and I’m delighted that is continuing — in particular with a new UK Centre for Maritime Intelligent Systems, based at Portsdown Technology Park.
Academics, scientists, engineers and naval specialists will come together at this centre to develop Britain’s nautical future, including cutting-edge technology for use in autonomous unmanned boats, submarines or other vessels.
First, this is excellent news for Portsmouth.
Of course there was great disappointment when BAE Systems relocated its shipbuilding to Scotland. That made me determined for the city to remain a buzzing hub of marine excellence, offering highly-skilled jobs and creating growth. That’s why I appointed a dedicated minister, Michael Fallon, to oversee it.
It’s why we’ve been backing this centre all the way. And with its naval base, Maritime Coastguard Agency, Lloyds Register and National Oceanography Centre — and its proud history and world-class expertise — Portsmouth is the ideal location for it.
The centre is one of a series of boosts for the city this month, including a £125 million growth deal for better transport, new homes, jobs and growth around the Solent area; the launch of Britain’s biggest ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is set to make Portsmouth its permanent home; and the £7.5 million grant for Sir Ben Ainslie’s new base.
Second, the new centre is excellent news for defence. In a dangerous and uncertain world we need to ensure we’re safe at home and our armed forces have the capabilities they need. This centre will be crucial in creating the technology that is so vital to us and our international partners, and creating technology for other markets, such as the oil and gas sector and environmental monitoring.
Third, this is good news for Britain’s prosperity. Our long-term economic plan aims to give Britain stability and security, and that plan is working; we are forecast to be the fastest growing economy in the G7 and there are nearly 1.7 million more people in work since the election. At the heart of that plan is creating jobs, rebalancing our economy and making it more competitive, supporting small businesses, investing in infrastructure, and giving our young people the skills they need to get on.
The Centre for Maritime Intelligent Systems ticks all those boxes; it will help us to the build that better and brighter future for Britain – and it’s good for Portsmouth and British defence, too. So I cannot wait to visit the city and to see this next milestone in Portsmouth’s history up and running.