MPs from across the local area came together today (Weds 18 January) to fight for the future of the Port of Southampton.
A major infrastructure project to upgrade container ship berths - which would create 200 jobs and safeguard 2,000 more - has been caught in red tape and held up by a legal challenge by rival dock owners in Felixstowe. ABP wants to redevelop two berths and carry out dredging work to allow the port to accommodate the latest and largest container ships but work must begin in September to avoid a further 12-month delay and loss of business for ABP, most probably to overseas competitors.
A debate was today held in Parliament, led by Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, on the future of the port in a bid to unlock the proposed investment by Southampton docks owners ABP.
Winchester & Chandler's Ford MP Steve Brine spoke in the debate, which also featured Romsey MP Caroline Nokes, New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, Gosport's Caroline Dinenage, Andrew Turner from the IOW and Alan Whitehead from Southampton Test.
Steve Brine stressed the urgency of a decision on the upgrade of berths 201/201 and added; "The future success of the Port of Southampton is important, not just to the city of Southampton but to my constituents in Winchester and Chandler's Ford. Many people work directly for ABP or DP World and a large number of connected businesses rely on its continued place as one of the preeminent UK ports.
"This decision is now urgent because ABP must not miss the September 2012-March 2013 'piling window' to deepen and widen the channel. If contracts for that work on the Southampton Approach Channel are not let in the very near future we will face a further 12 month delay and that will be too late to prevent a significant loss of business in Southampton."
Steve spoke personally to the Shipping Minister (Mike Penning) after the debate and stressed the urgency of a decision if Southampton is to move forward.
The Minister admitted during the debate that "mistakes" had been made by Government agencies but said he supported Southampton's bid to upgrade the berths and gave a very clear message to Hutchinson that they must not make any further attempts to frustrate Southampton's application.
He said that the entire project has faced a number of delays because of errors made by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and red tape at the Department of environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Mr Penning agreed to speak to his colleagues at DEFRA and stress the urgency of a decision on Southampton in the next 5-weeks.
Speaking after the debate to the Daily ECHO, Mr Denham said; "There are still plenty of things that can go wrong, but I feel that today's debate has made a difference and I am grateful to MPs across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for taking part."
Pictured; Local MP Steve Brine on his feet in Westminster Hall.
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Hutchison Ports, which owns Felixstowe port, legally challenged a planning consent granted to ABP by the MMO on environmental grounds, which has forced a re-assessment of the scheme.
The new berths and dredging works in Southampton are part of a port masterplan to boost box handling capacity from two million to 2.7m (TEUs or twenty foot equivalent units) by 2020.
Felixstowe, handles over three million containers (TEUs) a year making it the busiest container port in the UK and roughly double Southampton's throughput.
DP World Southampton - www.dpworldsouthampton.com
ABP Southampton - www.southamptonvts.co.uk
Read the debate in full via – www.parliament.uk