WORK is soaring ahead preparing Portsmouth naval base for the arrival of the biggest aircraft carriers ever built for the Royal Navy.
A lucrative contract worth £31m was awarded in June to Fareham-based Boskalis Westminster Ltd to ready the harbour for HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, due to arrive in the city by the end of the decade.
While the dredging vessel is not due to start its activity until next month, a crane barge, known as Strekker has already begun removing debris from the dredge site which could cause an obstruction.
The carriers will be far larger than any ships currently using Portsmouth Harbour, so Boskalis will dredge the approach channel, inner harbour area and berth pocket, making them deep and wide enough to accommodate them.
Around three million cubic metres of clay, sand and gravel will be removed from the harbour by the trailing suction hopper and backhoe dredgers.
Paul Simmonds, project manager for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which operates MoD estates including the city’s naval base, said: ‘DIO is working with Boskalis Westminster and the Navy to deliver the infrastructure needed to support the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth Carriers.
‘This initial work is important to ensure that dredging activity can start.’
The dredge is part of a programme of work by DIO to prepare for the arrival of the carriers, which includes rebuilding an ageing jetty dating from the 1920s.
VolkerStevin was appointed to upgrade the jetty, provide a high voltage electrical supply and to upgrade and refurbish the existing drinking water system. Captain Iain Greenlees, head of infrastructure at the naval base, said: ‘The start of the preparatory dredging works marks another important milestone in delivering a naval base that’s ready to support the new aircraft carriers. We are working hard to ensure the Naval Base is ready to receive the carriers by the end of next year.’
Portsmouth’s Tory planning, regeneration and economic development boss, Councillor Luke Stubbs, said the future was looking bright for the dockyard.
Cllr Stubbs said: ‘It’s a vote of confidence in the dockyard, and gives us a lot of confidence it will remain open and is central to the Royal Navy in future years. It also creates opportunities for potential commercial ships – it’s a very welcome development.
‘It’s quite a change to where we were a couple of years ago when the whole dockyard was under threat.’