Letter: Plans for `Britannia'

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Sir: I do not think it particularly helpful to conduct a debate in the letter pages of newspapers about Britannia while I and my officials are engaged in continuing dialogues with those who made bids. Nonetheless I must correct some comments about the Manchester bid in your article "Britannia plans may be scuppered" (9 January).

The Manchester bid was not late. Whilst Manchester was not among those who had expressed an early interest to government, their proposal was submitted on 29 September, the same day as the updated proposals of the Clyde Heritage Trust and a day before the updated proposals of Lords of the Isles for Canary Wharf in London.

Nor was inclusion of Manchester imposed upon officials. After initial scrutiny it was clear it had substance; it would have been irresponsible to reject it out of hand at that stage if we wanted the best solution for Britannia. None of the bids on the table were perfect. All needed more scrutiny and development. Most were developed further after the end of September. On 17 October all proposers were told by letter that government would assess the Manchester proposals alongside those previously shortlisted. None raised objections.

Many precedents show how difficult and costly it is to preserve historic ships such as Britannia. The process in which we are still engaged is not the letting of a competitive contract but an attempt to find the best possible arrangements for securing the future of this piece of national heritage. That is why I announced in December that we are now concentrating on just two proposals, from Edinburgh and Manchester. I remain more than happy to address whatever concerns any of the consortia involved wish to raise with me.

GEORGE ROBERTSON

Secretary of State for Defence

Ministry of Defence

London SW1

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