A new £2.5m coastguard emergency training centre received a royal seal of approval as construction finally got under way on the Hampshire base.

The flagship development in Lee-on-the-Solent will provide a state-of-the-art base equipping search and rescue teams from around the country with vital skills to serve those in peril on the sea.

Yesterday Prince Michael of Kent cut the first sod of turf as the work got under way at the Daedalus Airfield site, which will also serve as Hill Head Coastguard Rescue Team’s new home when it opens next year.

Pioneering facilities include an eight metre-high replica ‘cliff face’ which also plunges four metres into a pit for crews to practise for emergencies at perilous heights and in enclosed spaces.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Alan Massey said: “This modern, innovative training centre will give our rescue officers skills they need to respond to any kind of emergency on our coast.

“These dedicated, selfless volunteers are prepared to put themselves out to ensure the safety of others, and deserve the best training and equipment to support them. We aim to be the best maritime safety organisation in the world, and providing these modern, highly effective facilities is an important step towards realising that vision.”