Basing new frigates in Portsmouth makes sense

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LESLEY KEATING: A white-knuckle pursuit ending with a lesson in trust

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It is not just partisanship that leads us to call on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to ensure that all the forthcoming Type 26 frigates are based in Portsmouth.

As we report today, one of Philip Hammond’s final statements as defence secretary was to say it was likely that the 13 frigates – as and when they arrive – would be split between Portsmouth and Devonport.

While we would not want to appear ungrateful at the confirmation that some will be based in our harbour – and, indeed, given the recent track record of some MoD orders that they are still planned at all – we believe there’s a much stronger case to have all of them naming Portsmouth as their home base.

The reasons are these.

Firstly – ignoring for a moment the knock-on effects of a ‘yes’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum – the navy is beginning to fall into ‘themed’ main ports. Faslane is for submarines, Devonport is for amphibious expertise and the newer surface fleet of Type 45s and supercarriers are based here.

Secondly, if the new Type 26s are based at one port then one centre of maintenance can be created –and one servicing all ships at their home port will be better, and more cost-effective, than two sites; one in Devonport and one here.

With the oft-lamented impending departure of shipbuilding from Portsmouth, having a large and skilled maintenance centre, while a distance into the future, would be welcome.

Having all the ships together would also create a strong identity for the class – that’s something we have seen with the Type 45s that have become such a familiar sight in our harbour. That would not just be a boost for Portsmouth, it would be advantageous for the navy.

Obviously, there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge of these ships. But we call upon former minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon, in his new capacity as defence secretary, to look at the arguments and see the wisdom in basing all the Type 26s here. It would be an easy way to boost the city – an aim he espoused so well during his previous role.