A new blueprint for the home of the navy

Portsmouth Naval Base
Portsmouth Naval Base
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It’s getting a little crowded at the home of the Royal Navy.

Earlier this year the last of the six new Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyers sailed into the city for the first time.

By the end of the decade, there will be two giant aircraft carriers, bigger than the navy has ever seen, and after that, even more hulls in the form of Type 26 frigates.

Now, the race is on to get the naval base ready for the extra workload.

For the base to be able to support and maintain these ships, there needs to be an urgent investment in its infrastructure.

In 2017, if all the ships were to come home for Christmas and plug themselves into the mains, the lights would go out in Portsmouth.

With ships increasingly powered by electric drive, the naval base

electrical load is expected to go up by more than three times its current levels, far beyond what can currently be provided.

A study has now begun to look into the future power demands and find an


The naval base commander, Commodore Jeremy Rigby, is keen to find a solution on-site.

This could involve the construction of a power plant within the walls on the base which can heat and power the buildings and ships.

The excess power generated can then by used by the city, to power areas such as Tipner when the new development is complete.

Meanwhile, new cranes need to be put in place, jetties strengthened to take the enormous weight of the 65,000-tonne carriers, and accommodation sorted for her crew.

Captain Iain Greenlees is in charge of the transformation project.

He said: ‘This is a once-in-a-100-year opportunity.

‘The implications for the base are the same as the Edwardians faced as they worked out how to build and support the Dreadnought-class battleships – at the time the largest warships in the world – and we need to have the same sort of mindset.

‘The challenge is to think what a good 21st century naval base support should look like, and how we can deliver that from an 18th century naval base.

‘We haven’t invested significantly in the base for 10 years as we waited for the future to become clearer.

‘There needs to be a change in culture.

‘For the past 20 years we have looked at how we can manage doing the same things with five per cent less each year.

‘Money remains tight but we now need to look ahead, think big and work out how to best deliver future support.’

Portsmouth Naval Base covers 300 acres of land, with 62 acres of basin, 15 dry docks, 900 buildings and three miles of waterfront.

It is surrounded by 50 square miles of water, and sees 75,000 military and commercial ship moves a year.

Within the walls of the base are 19,000 full-time jobs.

The dockyard also brings in 500,000 tourists annually.

Of those 19,000 workers, 77 per cent live in the Portsmouth area.

It is estimated that by 2020 there will be another 2,000 sailors living in the Portsmouth area.

With construction of the first new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, continuing at a fast pace, the clock is ticking for the naval base to receive the upgrades it needs for their arrival.

The final sections of the carrier are soon to be installed ahead of her completion and expected arrival in the city in 2016.


DWARFING the cranes and buildings next to her, HMS Queen Elizabeth sits in place at her home port.

The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers are the biggest warships ever ordered by the Royal Navy and this mocked-up image shows the amount of space just one of them will take up when berthed in Portsmouth.

Dredging work in Portsmouth Harbour to create a deeper channel for the carriers is expected to begin next year.

Cranes and jetties will also need to be improved, replaced and strengthened.

Commodore Jeremy Rigby, the naval base commander, said: ‘I have identified the funding I need for the next 10 years to be able to support HMS Queen Elizabeth.

‘We’re going to make sure we’re ready.’

In addition to the support the carriers will need at home, they will need support abroad with fly-away teams of engineers going out to them.

This already happens with minesweepers but it has not been done on such a large scale before.

Navy chiefs are also looking across the pond for inspiration in how to maximise space when carriers are alongside.

They use their carriers as a working space, with the decks housing temporary workshops and canteens housed in containers.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to arrive in Portsmouth in 2016.


WITH six new destroyers, two enormous carriers and eventually a number of frigates, space is at a premium in Portsmouth Naval Base.

There needs to be space for the ships to come alongside, areas for maintenance and room for refits.

In some situations, warships can go outboard of each other but plans are being looked at to free-up space around the base.

This could involved splitting one of the large basins in half, creating a tidal basin and a non-tidal basin for more efficient work on the ships.

Engineering for the frigates and destroyers will increasingly be carried out at Fountain Lake and Number 3 Basin.

This area will need to be redeveloped so the ships can be supported properly and may include some of the area being filled in to 
allow ease of access for lorries.


DEMAND for power will increase substantially in the next decade as more warships start arriving in the city.

The navy is working with Portsmouth City Council on the idea of building a combined heat and power plant somewhere in the naval base.

The plant would provide enough power for the ships and the buildings within the base.

Any excess power generated could then be used for the benefit of the city.

This would come into play as more developments around Portsmouth are completed, such as the Tipner project or the Northern Quarter development.

The two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will require a huge amount of electricity when they are alongside.

The six new Type 45 destroyers also add to demand.


MILLIONS of pounds will need to be spent on caissons and cranes ahead of the arrival of more warships in the city.

Cranes assist with the maintenance of the ships and caissons seal the entrances to dry docks around the base.

The cranes within the base have a design life of 25 years, but the youngest crane at Portsmouth Naval Base is 45 years old.

The caissons are also in need of replacing.

Car parking is likely to become a problem around the north corner, where the carriers will be supported, and other jetties.

There will be no parking for workers and sailors on jetties in the future, so one solution that is being considered is a multi-storey car park.

The car park would be somewhere central within the base, so people would only have a 10-minute walk to work at most.


A LONG-HELD dream for the waters of Portsmouth Harbour is a water taxi linking the waterfronts from Gosport to Portsmouth.

A water taxi could link the attractions at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard to those in Gosport and Portchester.

But it also presents an opportunity to help with the influx of staff who will be working at the naval base.

By adding a stop at the naval base on the water taxi rounds, people with naval base IDs can disembark and get straight to work.

This could help cut down on the number of extra vehicles needed to be brought into the base, and on to the city’s roads.