For thousands of years the Solent has fufilled a vital role as a waterway for shipping, maritime trading, fishing and more recently recreation. The Solent has also been a strategically important site for military activity and defence of the realm and all these factors have helped to develop the maritime economy and industries that we can see today. With a population of over 1.3 million and some 50,000 businesses, the Solent area is a well recognised functional economic area anchored around the Isle of Wight, the two cities of Portsmouth and Southampton and the M27 corridor and Solent waterway.
The Solent's marine and maritime sector is one of its largest and most productive sectors, accounting for 20.5% of Solent's GVA, providing 40,000 jobs locally, and supporting more than 3,000 businesses. Over the period to 2025, the marine and maritime sector in the Solent region is forecast to grow by at least 5% (source: Solent LEP).
The Solent's marine industry sector contains a wide diversity of businesses ranging in scale from the large scale commercial operations at Southampton and Portsmouth down to small boatyards. In additional to the commercial ports, there are industrial processing sites requiring waterside locations for bulk shipping transport and/or the ready supply of seawater for use within processes, for example Esso Oil Refinery. Of increasing importance is cruising, with Southampton widely recognised as the capital of the country’s cruise industry.
Military use of the Solent is of substantial economic importance to the region and centres primarily on Portsmouth Harbour and Marchwood Military Port. Portsmouth Naval Base sits at the heart of a high-tech defence and advanced manufacturing cluster, supporting 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, contributing over £1.6bn of GVA. This cluster extends beyond marine into aerospace, including companies such as BAE Systems, GE Aviation Systems, Astrium and Qinetiq. Additionally, there are businesses requiring waterside location and/or use of waterspace, to provide services for recreational and commercial craft, such as marinas, boatyards, shipwards and sailing clubs. Activity is centred around Lymington, River Hamble and Cowes. There is also the maritime research and development sector and national manufacturers or service providers located in the Solent region by choice, including defence industries.
The natural resources of the Solent have been exploited since humans first came to live on its shores. Fish have been an important resource for centuries and more recently marine aggregates are landed here for the construction industry.
The Solent has three universities with specialisms in areas such as composites, fluid dynamics and marine autonomous systems. In September 2014, the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) – a £120m investment, was opened, creating enabling an internationally-recognised centre of excellence, bringing together a research, innovation, regulatory skills and education community from universities, research institutes, industry and government. Portsmouth hosts the Head Quarters of Land Rover BAR a site of world-leading boat design.