Martin Wright, the green power entrepreneur and chairman of the Renewable Energy Association, who fears his £800 million project for the giant shipbuilding facility could be scuppered by Whitehall delay which risks losing investments and contracts to Dubai and France.
Portsmouth’s shipbuilding yards are due to close this year, with BAE Systems switching all its work to the Clyde in Scotland. Since the announcement of the closure last year, it is understood that about 30 companies or organisations have expressed an interest in moving into the Portsmouth yard.
One of the plans put forward is by Mr Wright’s Aurora Ventures to build 20 specialist vessels for the offshore energy industry, ships that also could help to regenerate Britain’s stuttering tidal power industry. The vessels have been designed by Mojo Maritime, a Falmouth-based consultancy, and the project has attracted support from Hammonia Reederei, a German shipbuilder that wants to build the £40 million ships in Portsmouth.
Mr Wright, however, fears that politics may get in the way. “We have a political problem with Portsmouth, whose state of the art facilities make it the best facility in Western Europe,” he said. “There is a need to maintain the facilities and retain the skills, but it seems no action can be taken this side of the Scottish referendum [on independence in September] because the Ministry of Defence knows it makes sense, for now, to maintain a [shipbuilding] capability [in England].”
If there is that sort of delay, Mr Wright says that Hammonia is likely to take the shipbuilding project to the Port of Dubai. That, he says, would be a bitter irony, as the ships have been developed through grants from the Government’s Technology Strategy Board.
The new vessel is a catamaran designed to enable more efficient sub-sea installations and maintenance for the oil and gas industry and for the fitting of wind turbine towers and seabed cables. Mr Wright said that conventional bulky marine vessels can work only a few days a month on marine energy installations during neap tides — when high tide is at its lowest — whereas the enhanced stability of the Mojo HF4 can operate round the clock in more hostile conditions.
“That will massively change the costs of tidal energy [projects],” he said, “but if we don’t build them here they will go to countries like France, which are showing their own interest in marine energy.”
Aurora Ventures’ plans are backed by Penny Mordaunt, the Portsmouth North MP, who said: “Martin Wright has the vision as he understands what Portsmouth can offer. Portsmouth is strategically important for the country and we need to retain the skills. If we can bring in a coalition of organisations and centres of excellence and if we can bring in Tier 1 manufacturers, it will have the capability to go stellar.”
A spokesman for Michael Fallon, the Minister for Portsmouth, who has departmental responsibilities in both Business and Energy, said: “We are going all out to get businesses coming to Portsmouth and a local taskforce is exploring every single bit of commercial interest in the shipyard, including Mojo’s.”
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