PRINCE Michael of Kent was on hand to turn the first sod of earth on a project to build a £2.5m coastguard training centre.
The cousin of the Queen visited the former HMS Daedalus airfield in Lee-on-the-Solent to officially start construction on the centre, which should be finished by next summer.
About 3,500 volunteer coastguard members from across the country will visit the centre to improve skills needed when dealing with emergencies on Britain’s coastline.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Alan Massey said: ‘This is an exciting day for us.
‘We love our coast and most people have a great, safe time there, but every now and then people do get into trouble.
‘This modern, innovative training centre will give our coastguard rescue officers the skills that they need to respond to any kind of emergency on our coast. These are dedicated, selfless volunteers who are prepared to put themselves out to ensure the safety of others.’
He added: ‘They deserve the very best of training and equipment to support them in their tasks.’
A highlight of the centre will be an eight-metre ‘cliff face’ to train teams how to carry out rescues.
The climbing wall will descend four metres into a pit to enable coastguards to practise working in enclosed spaces.
It will also be the new base for the Hill Head Coastguard Rescue Team.
Fareham Borough Council mayor Councillor David Norris said the training centre was a ‘fantastic start’ for the redevelopment of Daedalus.
He said: ‘This will help with the creation of hi-tech jobs.
‘This is great for Gosport, great for Fareham and great for the surrounding area.’
Coastguard Maritime Operations staff officer Geoff Matthews said: ‘This centre is for the guys and ladies who do technical rescue work – cliff rescue, flood rescue, they search for missing and vulnerable persons.
‘This will be a state-of-the-art training centre for them to learn more about coastguard rescue to learn how to do their business better.’