‘We need more action to save shipbuilding in Portsmouth’

Vince Burdett, Sarah Stanton and Paul Gonella
Vince Burdett, Sarah Stanton and Paul Gonella

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KEY players in the bid to secure Portsmouth’s shipbuilding future have urged the government to act quickly – before it is too late and interested companies go elsewhere.

It comes as the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which runs the MoD’s estates, has yet to appoint a marketing agent to attract bids for future operations of the yard.

The yard is due to close this year with BAE Systems transferring all of its operations to the Clyde in Scotland with the loss of 900 jobs.

One man keen to invest in Portsmouth is Martin Wright, managing director of Aurora Ventures Limited, chairman of Mojo Maritime Limited and the Renewable Energy Association.

He plans to facilitate the building of specialist vessels for the tidal power industry and wants these cutting-edge vessels to be built in the UK.

But he told The News: ‘It’s frustrating because it takes so long.

‘We’re still not quite sure what the government’s intentions are for Portsmouth. There’s quite a lot of politics around it.’

He suggested that uncertainty over the result of the Scottish Referendum – which could leave England without an admiralty shipyard – could be a reason for the delay.

Mr Wright’s company is one of around 30 that have expressed an interest in coming to the shipyard. But he is also considering building the vessels in Dubai – where, ironically, some of the specialist engineers at Portsmouth could end up building them.

He added: ‘The survival of Portsmouth would depend on a good commercial plan which stacks up. If we can do that and a good commercial plan comes together, it’s a very good facility.

‘Of course, it would maintain capability of building warships.’

He added: ‘It may be that we hold off a bit longer. But we want to place an order as soon as we can. We want to get this built. ‘

City-based marine consultant Stanton Burdett is liaising with Mr Wright, as well as others, with a view to putting in a bid to start commercial shipbuilding.

Sarah Stanton, a director of Stanton Burdett, said ‘time was of the essence’ and it needed to be sorted out in the next six months.

She said: ‘Portsmouth needs to realise it’s got this one opportunity and it’s not going to come back.

‘We keep asking the question of when this is going to be available and keep trying to push the timeline. If something does not happen quickly, then they are probably going to go and build in Dubai or France.’

But Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, who is in regular contact with both Mr Wright and Stanton Burdett, said were lots of talks taking place, both in the defence and energy departments.

She said: ‘Once the agent appointment is in place, which I think will be a couple of weeks, things will move very quickly.

‘I can understand people being frustrated by the process – I am frustrated by the process.

‘I’ve spent every day banging on various civil servants’ doors saying “Why has this not happened?” but we have got to get this to happen as quickly as possible.

‘We are dealing with the Whitehall machine.’

She added: ‘Mr Wright is still interested in coming to Portsmouth. He’s been incentivised by Dubai to go there, but he wants to come to us.

‘That’s testament to the kudos that comes from building ships in Portsmouth and the reputation we have and the amazing supply chain in the area.’