By Chris Yandell and Rob Merrick
Southern Daily Echo – 10 January 2014
The sale of a key Hampshire military base will be underway within a few months – with no fewer than 25 potential bidders. The Government has revealed it will launch a "formal sale process" of Marchwood Military Port, in New Forest, this Spring. Commons Leader Andrew Lansley added:
"Twenty-five parties have shown an interest in participating, although clearly we cannot identify who they are."
The comments came after questioning from Dr Julian Lewis, the New Forest East MP, who has criticised a predicted sale to Associated British Ports (ABP). Local councillors and residents have raised concerns over ABP's plans, arguing they could lead to traffic problems in and around Marchwood and an expansion of the site. The Conservative MP said:
"I'm pleasantly surprised that there are 24 other parties that are interested and will be curious to see what proposals come forward. However, the concern and suspicion will be that Associated British Ports will be at the front of the queue, which is unfortunate.
"We all supported them over their successful attempts to greatly increase the capacity of their container port, which should meet their needs for a very long time. They should now leave my constituents alone, rather than trying to keep open the option of building on the edge of the New Forest, which would be most detrimental to the quality of life."
Nevertheless, Dr Lewis welcomed the prospect of certainty over Marchwood, an issue which had "dragged on for more than three years".
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) which owns Marchwood is eager to sell it off as part of plans to raise £500m by disposing of sites across the UK. ABP chiefs are keen to use it as a car storage facility – creating up to 400 jobs and similar to the multi-storey car compounds the port currently contains. They have denied any interest in building a container terminal, the key fear of local campaigners, at the 330-acre site.
In the Commons, Mr Lansley said:
"The intention is to grant a long-term concession that will include the sale of a lease for the port and the delivery of sea mounting services. That will ensure that the military requirement can still be met, while allowing greater economic and commercial benefit to be realised from the site.
"A concession will be granted only if the Ministry of Defence is satisfied that it represents good value for money."
The MoD has previously said that it expects the sale to be completed by April next year.