Rosyth: Despair of docks by the Trident divided: Britain's last two major dockyards, once part of a proud network, are locked in a life-or-death struggle for the contract to refit submarines

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The Independent Online
NEW OR nearly new cars are parked in most driveways of the cul-de-sac where Terry Fernon lives. By the end of the month, the 4,000 workers at the Rosyth naval dockyard will have found out if parking their cars at work is something they need worry about in the future.

'This area has never really suffered from the recession because of the dockyard, but now people are frightened,' says Mr Fernon. At 40, he has spent 19 years at Rosyth. In an ironic tone he adds: 'After being a television engineer, I went into the dockyards for security.'

The dockyard at Rosyth in Fife, managed by Babcock Thorn, is the Scottish end of the Trident debate.

Since the early 1960s, Britain's Polaris submarines have been refitted there, each job taking up to two and a half years and costing pounds 150m. Five years ago, work began on preparing the yard for Trident. A hole the size of six football pitches has been dug; concrete poured; tests made. The project is called RD57 - the dry-dock site intended to hold the Trident refits. The preparatory work has so far cost pounds 100m. Locals refer to it as 'the hole that cost a mint'.

Before the arithmetic of the peace dividend, the Ministry of Defence believed there was enough work to sustain both Rosyth and the dockyard at Devonport. The decision on where the Trident work goes will show whether they still hold such a view. For the two communities, life without a naval dockyard is unimaginable.

Like most of his neighbours, Terry Fernon says his future depends on whether Rosyth has a future. It is Scotland's largest industrial employer and boasts the largest intake of apprentices - 200 a year - north of the border. Towns such as Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and small scattered communities which have survived the demise of the local coal industry, also rely on the dockyard for jobs.

Without Rosyth, MoD contract and supply work in the area would also go, placing a further 20,000 jobs in danger.

Shaking his head and looking as if he would rather discuss something else, Mr Fernon says: 'It would be an economic disaster.' For his wife Anne, who works in Edinburgh, and their two children, aged 13 and 10, being without the family's main wage would end their relatively comfortable lifestyle. 'Entire families working at Rosyth is not the exception, it's the usually the rule,' said Mr Fernon.

Terry's brother Jim, an electrician, works at the dockyard, as does his sister, Catherine. Their father, Jim Snr, began at Rosyth as the Second World War ended. Retiring three years ago, Mr Fernon Snr still looks back to what he called 'the buzz of working in the dockyard. You didn't make a lot of money, but you had a secure job.'

He began in the Naval Construction Research Establishment and in 1963 moved to teaching the Royal Navy's trade apprentices at Rosyth's naval base. Ten years ago he became an instructor at the dockyard's apprentice training centre. His generation would never have predicted the battle now going on with their English competitor, Devonport.

The two yards are effectively all that remains of a much larger network of naval yards dating back to Henry VII, the first English monarch who was concerned with ensuring that the realm had a standing permanent fleet. Deptford and Woolwich faded in the last century and Chatham and the Gibraltar outpost left the list in 1984, at the same time as Portsmouth was downgraded. In the late 1970s the royal dockyards, which once used to build as well as repair and refit ships, employed 34,000.

By the mid-1980s the workforce (still technically all civil servants before the decision to privatise the running of the yards) was down to less than 20,000. Now, with only 4,000 at Rosyth and 5,000 at Devonport, their economic importance nationally may be diluted, but to the local economies they serve, they remain crucial.

Like Linwood and Ravenscraig before it, Rosyth has become a national symbol of Scottish industry. However, recent events made those inside the yard believe they had a chance of avoiding closure. Low morale was boosted at the end of last year when details of their revised bid for the Trident work revealed the Scottish yard had undercut Devonport.

In the battle to secure the MoD contract, each side has regularly fired off broadsides of half- truths. Rosyth's Scottish geography was compared to Russia and the Ukraine after the collapse of the USSR; the Scottish yard was said to be more prone to earthquakes; Devonport's safety record was questioned; Rosyth's management commissioned an independent study that claimed keeping both yards was the best option - but that Rosyth should be given the lucrative Trident work and Devonport other naval surface ship work.

Waiting for the MoD to deliver its judgement is not easy. 'Nobody wants Devonport to shut,' said Mr Fernon. 'It would be better if both stayed open. Nobody wants to see another yard go.'

But, as his son and daughter went out to play, he contemplated the prospect of having to move if the worst happened. 'Where would we move to? I had always hoped for both my son and my daughter that there would be something still here for them.'

(Photograph omitted)

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