We must work together to safeguard yard’s future

COMMENT: Attraction will capitalise on the riches in our midst

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The sheer size is seriously impressive. As the pictures on today’s front page and pages four and five show, the project to build two new aircraft carriers is on a scale never before seen.

When they are completed, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will be the largest surface warships we have ever built – and much of the credit for such a feat should go to Portsmouth.

As the first of these leviathans, Queen Elizabeth, takes shape in a dry dock in Rosyth, ready for a planned launch date in 2014, it must be remembered that some of her most crucial parts have been built in Portsmouth Naval Base at the city’s BAE Systems shipyard.

Meanwhile the ship’s technological systems are being tested at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, kit including the command system is being tested on Portsdown Hill and transmitters and radar are undergoing trials at Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The enormous blocks that make up the Queen Elizabeth may be being pieced together hundreds of miles away in Scotland, but she is very much made here in the south.

As retired Captain Tony Holberry, who works with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance building the two carriers, says: ‘We are making history here. When she comes through Portsmouth you won’t be able to see anything like it again. It will be a day to tell your grandchildren about.’

But the fear is that the carriers’ construction could be the end of an era.

Hundreds of people depend on the city’s shipyard for work – and so do those employed by companies in the local supply chain.

So we support the Labour city councillor for Cosham, Aiden Gray, as his motion at today’s full council meeting calls for a cross-party group to work with unions to safeguard the shipyard’s future.

As BAE Systems nears the end of a review of its UK shipbuilding operation, we have to present a united front and make the government fully understand the devastating impact of closure.

Our shipyard and its skilled workforce has proved itself an extremely valuable asset. As a city, we must do all we can to maintain that in the future.