TODAY’S historic homecoming of the nation’s new aircraft carrier is braced to spark the start of a £1bn boost for Portsmouth’s economy.
That’s the message from the boss of Portsmouth City Council, Councillor Donna Jones, ahead of the triumphant arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth this morning.
The council chief claims the 65,000-tonne behemoth, and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, is set to bring a major jobs boom to the area.
She claims that 2,000 new roles could be secured across the city by the arrival of the two new floating fortresses.
It’s an economic surge that will form part of the city’s future prospects for the expected 50-year lifespan of both the new warships.
Cllr Jones said: ‘Over the next 50 years the carriers will bring in well in excess of £1bn to Portsmouth’s economy.
‘It really is a major thing for Portsmouth. I don’t think people quite realise the huge impact the new aircraft carriers will have on the city.’
Firms which have already boosted their operation in Portsmouth include defence giant Babcock, which moved more than 450 workers to its new base at Lakeside, in North Harbour, last year.
However, Cllr Jones anticipates other firms that will support the carrier programme will also move into the city – something the council and the Solent LEP are working hard to achieve.
And she said the role of the carriers has helped to shore up the future prospects for the city’s naval base, which only a few years ago faced the threat of closure.
‘It secures our naval base in Portsmouth for the next 50 years,’ she said.
‘People will remember that during the Strategic Defence Review in 2010 there was a possibility that the naval base could have been closed or scaled back considerably.
‘But now with the arrival of the two biggest warships ever created in Britain, the base is arguably the securest of the three naval bases in the UK.’
Queen Elizabeth was expected to sail through the city’s harbour entrance at 7.10am this morning.
It came after the shock announcement by the navy on Monday evening confirming the date – which was earlier than the Senior Service’s initial entry window.
The change of plan prompted a scramble to ensure the city was ready for the homecoming.
Preparations for the milestone event were taking place well into the night and morning.
Roads across the city were closed as security was tightened, with access to some areas being restricted.
The closures are due to stretch into this morning.
Cllr Jones said the council was expecting an influx of between 50,000 and 100,000 well-wishers from across the nation to witness the momentous occasion.
Among those flocking to the city included former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord Alan West.
Last night, Lord West issued a rallying cry for the people of the city to throw a welcome party like never before to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage into the city.
He said: ‘If I were living in Portsmouth I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
‘It’s on of those great occasions that you will be able to look back on this in 50 years time and say, “I was there”.
‘Just the pure sight of that ship coming through the harbour mouth will be breathtaking.’
Yesterday excitement built as the carrier travelled along the south coast, passing Plymouth, Weymouth and Dorset, before stopping off the Isle of Wight.
To ready Portsmouth for the new warship, more than 3.2 million cubic metres of mud from the approach of the city’s harbour was removed – enough waste to fill 1,280 Olympic swimming pools.
The job of making sure the 280m warship makes it safely through the narrow entrance of the historic waterfront is that of Havant man Tony Bannister.
Tony, who is the chief admiralty pilot, has been working with the Queen Elizabeth’s ship’s company and the tugs to make sure the entrance goes as smoothly as possible.
The vessel is home to a crew of about 700 sailors. But has space to accommodate 1,600 military personnel.
Her vast flight deck is the size of about three football pitches.
She is expected to begin trials with the F-35B stealth jet at some point next year.
Her maiden deployment will be in the early 2020s.