Work has begun to revamp facilities in Portsmouth Naval Base so it can accommodate Britain’s biggest warships.
It will take 18 months and £34 million to turn the 90-year-old structure at Middle Slip Jetty into 21st Century moorings meeting all the needs of Britain’s future flagship.
In due course, the more modern Victory Jetty – in the shadow of Nelson’s legendary namesake man o’war – will also be improved so that both 65,000-tonne leviathans can be in port simultaneously.
HMS Queen Elizabeth – currently being fitted out at Rosyth dockyard in Scotland – is due to make her debut in Portsmouth in early 2017.
Around £100 million investment in the base and harbor is required to prepare the base for her arrival.
The year and half of work carried out by construction firm VolkerStevin – who also built the new ammunition facility in Portsmouth Harbor to meet the needs of the six Type 45 destroyers based in the city – will see hundreds of tonnes of steel installed and concrete poured to replace or enhance the existing jetty.
And in December eight months of dredging begins to deepen the main channel used by shipping by one meter – the carriers will have a draught of 11m (36ft), the same as post-war battleship HMS Vanguard – and treble its width.
“This is a huge project – and a very exciting one, refurbishing and rebuilding jetties, bringing in new power facilities, installing navigation beacons, dredging millions of tonnes of mud,” said Capt Iain Greenlees, the base’s head of infrastructure.
“This program confirms the future of Portsmouth Naval Base for the next 50 to 80 years. It will be the only port which can fully support HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales and meet all their needs.”
The jetty structure from the 1920s – an layer of concrete up to one meter thick sitting atop a complex lattice network – will be torn down and replaced as it has reached the end of its life, that from the 1970s can be strengthened.
New communications cables, a high-voltage electrical supply, improved fresh water piping will also be installed.
“The new aircraft carriers will be bigger than anything before – and so everything which services them needs to be bigger as well to meet the demands,” said Rob Coupe, managing direction of VolkerStevin who have around 75 people currently working on the project.
Also still to come as part of the improvement project are around a dozen navigational aids – those planted in the harbor will be 150ft high – to help the captain, bridge team and pilot to bring the carriers safely alongside.