Commercial development could allow us to enjoy dockyard gems

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In the wake of the leadership Britain has shown over Libya, questions have inevitably been asked about the size of the defence budget and how closely it matches the size of our expectations.

Portsmouth’s new aircraft carriers recently received another bashing in the national media over the cost of fitting the ‘caps and traps’ that will allow them to launch the Joint Strike Fighter in 2021.

It hardly needs to be said that the same media organs reflected on how useful carrier strike would be in the Libyan theatre. In this respect, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are a defining issue when it comes to Britain’s view of itself and vision of its future role.

Yet before we dwell on our international role, we need to get the Ministry of Defence’s house in order. Reports of lost, as in misplaced, MoD property ranging from boots to helicopter blades, and the ministry’s poor track record in procurement, must be addressed. It is difficult to argue for an increased budget when the existing budget could be better spent.

In a recent Parliamentary debate on the UK’s three naval bases, I suggested one way we can address this urgent problem. In Portsmouth one of the challenges faced is the cost of maintaining the number of historic and often listed buildings in the dockyard. This is necessary work, but expensive work.

Happily, in the debate the government reiterated its commitment to all three bases, and the problem of Portsmouth’s maintenance budget does have a solution. These wonderful buildings should be preserved, used and enjoyed, and there is commercial interest, together with the local MoD, willing to make this happen. Alas, European rules designed to ensure fair competition demand such a huge investment from would-be developers with no guarantee of success that buildings will continue to stand empty.

What a disgrace that the old rope sheds and the naval college with its beautiful cupola, to name but two of the dockyard’s gems, remain hidden from public view and are slowly decaying.

Millions of pounds could be saved by the navy and generated for the city if appropriate development could be secured. We need to ensure that rules designed to prevent corrupt developments aren’t a bar to any development at all.