Military use of the Solent is of substantial economic importance to the region and centres primarily on the naval base at Portsmouth Harbour and Marchwood Military Port.
Portsmouth Harbour is the traditional home of the Royal Navy, is the base port for the majority of the Navy's surface warships and is also the major naval stores distribution centre in the UK. Military activity is well established around the harbour and includes; the maintenance and building of ships in the Naval Base, helicopter maintenance at Fleetlands, fuelling operations at Clarence Yard and ordnance storage and distribution at the Gosport Armament Depot. The Defence Diving School is on Horsea Island, there is a firing range at Tipner and a training establishment on Whale Island which also accommodates the Fleet Headquarters.
Portsmouth will host the next generation of frigates known as the Future Surface Combatant (FSC). They will be berthed alongside the new Type 45 destroyers currently being introduced to service as well as the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers currently on order. A massive scheme is to start in the future to enhance Portsmouth Naval Base over the next ten years. The plan, likely to cost approximately £60 million, includes the dredging of a deeper channel to Portsmouth, dredging of the main channel inside the harbour, and refurbishment of several of the base’s jetties. This will ease access and support for the new aircraft carriers due to enter service in 2014, that will replace the existing Invincible Class Aircraft Carriers, as well as the new Type 45 destroyers currently being built.
The Queen's Harbour Master, Portsmouth (QHM) has a significant role as the harbour authority for The Dockyard Port of Portsmouth which covers approximately 55 square miles of the central and Eastern Solent. The naval base is of significant heritage interest, both in terms of the historic dockyard and buildings. A number of operational sites are of importance for wildlife, whilst others have a large impact on the landscape. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) operates several sites within the Solent area, where research and development on defence technology is undertaken.
The QHM makes a significant contribution to the management of the Solent as the harbour authority for Portsmouth Harbour and the Eastern Solent, is a driving force behind other stakeholder's involvement in the area and is a co-sponsor of the Solfire Plan for marine emergencies.
Marchwood Military Port, on the western shore of Southampton Water, is the sole military port in the UK and provides the training ground for Army port and maritime personnel. It is the home port for the army vessels run by the Royal Logistic Corps. In addition, HQ Solent Station and 17 Port and Maritime Regt Wksp REME are based there. The MoD have recently invested heavily in the site, typically the port will handle 100,000 tonnes of military material a year. Approximately 50 civilian and 600 military personnel are employed at the port.
The recent national trend within the defence sector has been a progressive series of budget reductions, although the concentration of effort towards front-line forces has led to the consolidation of the position of Portsmouth Naval Base. The long-term assessment is that naval activity within Portsmouth Harbour will remain stable at around the present level.
Despite this long-term prediction, there are some sites around the harbour which are now surplus to MoD requirements and are due for release. The future use of these sites is in the process of being determined, and each has its own set of issues to be considered. Cumulatively, the land being released is significant given its scale and urban location, so agreeing and implementing the best possible developments is of great importance to the future of Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham. The local plan system, together with the production of development briefs, and other supplementary planning guidance has the key role in shaping future land use, although an overview of the body of sites is also required.
Security requirements impose limits on the integration of the MoD's activities on their operational land with other interests. There is interest from local authorities in working with the MoD on nature, landscape and heritage conservation and, where possible, public use.
The past MoD exemption from environmental regulation has now been removed by a ministerial direction that all Crown sites should be subject to requirements for discharges to be consented and monitored. The MoD has agreed consents with the Environment Agency and all MoD sites within the Solent have met the consents deadline to the satisfaction of the Agency. The MoD are committed to an environmental policy which was launched by the Secretary of State for Defence in 1996.
The Forum would like to thank Roger Davies, AQHM Portsmouth for his assistance in preparing the text for this page.