IT was the controversial scheme that sparked one of the biggest planning battles Britain had seen in years.
But despite being rejected a decade ago, a new £600m docks expansion at Dibden Bay WILL get the green light eventually, according to the man who has been in charge of Southampton docks for a decade.
Moves to build a vast new terminal on reclaimed land opposite Southampton Docks were dramatically thrown out by the Labour Government in 2004 following a heated year-long public inquiry.
The idea, which provoked fury among opponents on the Waterside, has not been abandoned by those in charge at Associated British Ports.
Over the last ten years, the company has catered for ever-increasing demand in the city by expanding within their own boundaries by making preparations to host new super containers and building upwards with multi-deck car parks.
But Doug Morrison, who is retiring from his nine-year spell as ABP chief executive in Southampton, is confident Dibden Bay will one day get the green light – a claim that has already been rejected by critics of the idea.
Mr Morrison told the Daily Echo: “I’m convinced Dibden Bay will happen at some point in the future, but I think it is a long time away.
“There’s nowhere else.
“Goods will always come from where manufacturing is cheapest. It will always come by sea. At some point or other, where else have you got 800 acres of land next to deep water anywhere else in the country? I can’t think of any without spending billions upon billions like Boris’s Airport in the Thames.
Hopeful “It’s there, it just needs a new quay and surfacing.”
And he revealed the company is very hopeful of securing 100 acres at Marchwood Military Port and converting it to help handle imports and exports of some one million cars a year by 2018.
This move alone, he claims, would create at least 400 new jobs and would push back the need to reconsider Dibden Bay as an expansion plan.
As reported in the Daily Echo, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) may decide to sell the military port under plans to raise £500m by disposing of sites across the UK. Defence chiefs will consider three options for the port – retaining it as it is, selling the site but keeping an MoD presence, or vacating the land entirely.
Military presence Any sale would be completed by April 2015.
And a deal with ABP would preserve a military presence at Marchwood, which is home to 17 Port and Maritime Regiment.
But local councillors and residents have voiced concern over the prospect, saying the scheme could lead to major traffic issues in the Marchwood area.
Mr Morrison said: “We obviously cast an envious eye over at Marchwood Military Port.
“But I think before everyone on that side of the water starts jumping up and down and screaming, it will all be for cars and let’s be honest seeing lots of new cars over there is not exactly an eyesore. It’s got great rail connections and a lot of the cars are coming in by rail.
“It would need some surfacing and probably needs tens of millions spent but not hundreds of millions spent on it.
“Just think how much more business you could bring to this city. We actually turn away business simply because we don’t have the space.
“I don’t know of a time span for Dibden Bay, but if you get Marchwood I just can’t see any Dibden Bay application for many, many years.”
It is not the first time Mr Morrison has predicted the Dibden Bay scheme will get the go-ahead and in the past he has said it will be operational sometime between 2020 and 2030.
At a business conference in 2009 he vowed to press on with the plan for a four-berth facility, which would double the capacity of the container port and create up to 3,000 jobs.
Hampshire County Councillor David Harrison, who was involved in the initial battle to stop development at Dibden Bay, has dismissed Mr Morrison’s latest claims – and vowed to fight any future proposal.
“It is plain wrong. I think the feeling is stronger than ever. We have a wonderful port of Southampton, but it should not be a port of Southampton and the New Forest.”