Battle hots up over Navy yards review

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The Independent Online

The war of words ignited by a Government review that threatens the closure of one of the UK's three main naval bases heated up last week after one executive suggested that any cuts be targeted at a rival site.

Peter Whitehouse, corporate development director of DML, the company that runs the dockyard at the naval base at Devonport in Plymouth, said: "The Navy is seeking to downsize its naval base infrastructure. There is a very strong cost case for Devonport that is irrefutable." When asked if he thought that any and all cutbacks should be done instead at Portsmouth naval base, he replied: "Yes, indeed."

Business and political leaders from both areas have lobbied intensively since the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, announced an infrastructure review in Sep-tember. He wants to reduce facilities built for a much larger navy. The review's recommendations could be delivered to Mr Browne as soon as next month.

BAE Systems and VT operate a joint venture in Portsmouth, Fleet Support, which maintains surface ships. Major cuts would hit its £130m annual turnover.

Barbara Thompson of Ports-mouth City Council said: "This is not just about the base. There would be serious knock-on effects." But Devonport officials say that the economy of the South-west region would be harder hit than that of the South Coast by a major restructuring.

The Ministry of Defence has been pushing hard for consolidation of the UK shipbuilding industry. BAE, VT and DML, owned by the US group Kellogg Brown & Root, are all thought to have indicated to the MoD that it will be easier for them to participate in consolidation if their naval bases remain open.

A third facility, at Faslane on the Clyde, is not thought to be in danger because it is used exclusively for the servicing of submarines and will be the operational centre for the new Astute class of subs.