Minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon announces new plan to boost city

Michael Fallon
Michael Fallon
Picture: Pierandrea Guarnieri

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MAJOR improvements being planned for the city’s port could double the number of visiting cruise passengers and secure jobs for the future, according to a new report being launched today by the minister for Portsmouth.

It comes as part of a £91m investment plan being unveiled in the wake of BAE Systems’ shipyard closure.

Plans for the expansion of the port are one of several measures being announced in a report commissioned by the minister, Michael Fallon, and put together by Rear-Admiral Rob Stevens.

The pair will travel to the city today to unveil the report, which makes 36 recommendations and has picked out 15 areas of potential funding.

One of them is a £10.5m bid for the port, which needs improvements in order to keep its major customers and increase new traffic.

If found, the cash would be used to demolish a floating dock jetty, release land to extend parts of the port, carry out dredging work, and put in new facilities including cranes and a container warehouse.

Other recommendations in the report include:

· Improving transport links between Portsmouth and Southampton;

· Working to secure Sir Ben Ainslie’s campaign to win the America’s Cup for the Solent region;

· Creating a new centre of excellence to develop manufacturing using composite materials and win more business for the region.

Mr Fallon said: ‘The Solent is well placed to have a world-beating marine and maritime industry.

‘It has ports that lie just 20 miles from the world’s busiest shipping route from Shanghai to Rotterdam – and a business base, skills, traditions, research, and educational strengths that are second to none.

‘But it had no comprehensive plan to help secure the huge opportunities that exist.

‘That is why I commissioned this work.

‘Rob Stevens and the large number of people that have supported him have delivered an impressive piece of work which forms a strong basis for government, business, and councils to deliver.’

Rear-Adml Stevens added: ‘My report is designed to unify and enhance the many elements of marine excellence in the region, to embrace the new technologies and seize the opportunities they bring.

‘My hope is that the measures, when implemented, will rekindle the pride, heritage, and ambition of the region.’

The government will consider the recommendations and funding proposals made in the report as part of its negotiations with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the council has already set some money aside for improvements to the port, which it owns.

He said: ‘The council has put a huge investment into the port already. We have a new terminal that cruise carriers are happy to use.

‘The ferry company is pleased with it but we need to find ways keep improving the business to keep it going.

‘One of the things we need to do is to provide a place for the new fuel that the ferries will be using when new regulations come in.

‘We will be the place on the south coast for ships to refuel.’

BAE Systems announced in November last year that it will put an end to its shipbuilding operations in Portsmouth.

Mr Fallon and Rear-Adml Stevens will unveil their report during a visit today to Portchester-based firm Magma Structures.

Following the announcement that Lambert Smith Hampton was the chosen marketing agent for the shipyard, 14 ‘worthwhile contacts’ have come forward, according to the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation.

Mr Fallon will this week meet a company that registered an initial interest in building or servicing specially designed barges that can generate electrical power for the city.

Tower Bridge Ventures is one of the companies that has shown an interest in the base, according to the department.

The names of the other businesses that have approached the marketing agent have not yet been released.

Union leaders will also hold discussions with Mr Fallon today.

Councillor John Ferrett, leader of the Labour group on Portsmouth City Council, and negotiator for the Prospect union, said: ‘The meeting that we have got is about shipbuilding.

‘We are making another plea about how we should be keeping at least part of the capabilities.

‘What we have not seen is anything of any substance. We will say we need more than warm words.

‘That is why I am sceptical about what is going on, because when I talk to the Royal Navy, they say they want to utilise that space.’

Transport links need to improve

POOR transport links between Portsmouth and Southampton are putting a brake on economic growth, according to the report put together by Rear-Admiral Rob Stevens.

Better connections on road networks, particularly from the east to Southampton Airport, have been highlighted as areas that are in need of improvement.

According to the report, the current connectivity between the two cities is ‘poor’.

‘This must be addressed to attract new marine and maritime enterprises to our region, enabling employers to draw on the skills of people from across the region, and to reduce the costs of long and unreliable travel times,’ the report says.

Road improvements at junction nine of the M3 with the A34 and a new bypass at Stubbington are marked out as areas to help keep the region’s vehicles, and economic growth, moving.

The international port’s potential is also being drawn upon, with a funding ask of £10.5m to go towards developing the area.

According to an economic impact analysis by the University of Portsmouth, the port is responsible for 805 full-time equivalent jobs and contributes £38.7m to the greater Portsmouth economy.

Both the passenger and freight sides of the business do and can make a considerable impact to the local economy.

The report notes: ‘With suitable berthing facilities and successful promotion, the volume of cruise passengers visiting Portsmouth could double by 2023.’

Shipyard attracts interest

MORE than a dozen interested firms have approached the shipyard’s marketing agents since they were named just over a week ago, The News can reveal.

Since the appointment of a marketing agent for the soon-to-be vacant shipbuilding site in Portsmouth naval base, 14 approaches have been made by interested groups.

As reported, the Ministry of Defence named Fareham-based Lambert Smith Hampton as the marketer of the site earlier this month.

The government also published a prospectus outlining what facilities are available.

Michael Fallon, the minister for Portsmouth, said: ‘The recent publication of the prospectus and appointment of marketing agents are important steps forward.

‘I want to see no stone left unturned in seeing whether there is a robust commercial venture out there that can occupy this major site.’

Mr Fallon is expected to meet one of the interested firms this week.

The company, Tower Bridge Ventures, is said to have registered an interest in building or servicing specially-designed barges that can generate electrical power in Portsmouth.

In his report, Rear-Adml Stevens said of the firm: ‘Such a project could help meet Portsmouth naval base’s power requirements, could re-employ BAE employees, and would not, at first glance, impinge on the operational capability of the naval base.

‘This, and other opportunities that meet the requirements, should be investigated by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation as a matter of urgency.’

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