MAJOR works to prepare Portsmouth Harbour for the arrival of the Royal Navy’s biggest ever ships will start in the coming weeks.
The first of two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers being built for the navy is due to arrive in Portsmouth in 2016. The second will be here in 2018.
But areas of the harbour will need to be made 3ft deeper to accommodate the huge £6bn ships before they can come to the city.
Preparatory work, which involves drilling 400 holes in the Solent sea bed, will begin next month ahead of a major dredging programme in 2014.
It comes after the Ministry of Defence signed a £5m deal to start environmental impact studies for the £120m project.
Portsmouth Naval Base commander, Commodore Tony Radakin, told The News: ‘This has been talked about for years and years, but Portsmouth Naval Base is now spending money for the first time in preparation for the new carriers coming in.
‘We are now on that path, and it’s a physical path, for the first new ship to come here in 2016. It’s hugely exciting.
‘We are talking about ships three or four times the size of the navy’s last carriers.
‘We need to dredge an additional 1m deeper down – that’s a lot of dredging that needs to be done.
‘However, to do that there’s lots of environmental work that needs to be done first.’
More than 400 boreholes will be drilled in the harbour during the next 12 months.
Cdre Radakin, who took over from Cdre Rob Thompson as head of the naval base last month, said: ‘We will be taking samples in order to understand what it is we are dredging. Then we can decide what we are going to do with it – whether we sell it as gravel or if it’s mud whether we can move it from one part of the Solent to another part.’
Once the drilling and environmental impact studies are completed, it is planned that engineers can begin dredging the harbour in 2014.
The dredging project, which will cost £120m in total, will be finished in time for the arrival of the first supercarrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, in 2016.
At the same time as the dredging, hundreds of thousands of pounds will be spent on reinforcing the jetties in Portsmouth Naval Base so they can cope with the weight of the carriers when they are tied up alongside in the base.