Caroline joined MPs from across the region in Parliament today to press for action to secure the future of the port. The debate in Westminster Hall came at a critical juncture, as Port owners ABP (Associated British Ports) upped their campaign to gain consent to develop container ship capacity to meet the demands of new, larger vessels.
The expansion is seen as essential to securing the commercial competitiveness of the port, and was praised by the Gosport MP as “a shining example of private investment that should fuel economic growth, trade and jobs”.
Yet the failure of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to grant consent and the meddling of commercial rivals Hutchison’s Ports has prevented this development for over four years. Caroline condemned the “tortuous tale of mishaps and deliberate obstructions”, and highlighted that “the alternative…is the very real possibility that the international success of the Port will be undermined and up to 2,000 jobs put at risk. The new generation of container ship are on the horizon – if Southampton is not allowed to act within the coming months, they may well pass her by”.
The public consultation on the expansion will finally conclude on 22nd February and the decision will then be left in the hands of the MMO. Caroline stressed the need for “speed and precision” from the MMO, a quango created by the previous Government, so construction can begin in time for the arrival of the larger ships.
Transport Minister Mike Penning, in responding to the debate, said he was “categorically supportive” of expansion at the Port of Southampton. He emphasised the Government’s recognition of the “importance and significance of ports to an island nation”, but noted the relative lack of influence Ministers hold over the MMO.