SELLING a key Hampshire military base is a critical aim of an ambitious masterplan to breathe life into the Solent’s economy.

Top ministers say releasing Marchwood Military Port is crucial to “unlocking” the region’s maritime and economic fortunes.

Their recommendations were a key part of yesterday’s flagship Government report unveiling a new vision boosting growth, jobs and productivity in Southampton, Portsmouth and the wider area.

The blueprint also recommends promoting the area’s maritime excellence through Sir Ben Ainslie’s campaign to win the America’s cup from the Solent.

The work was commissioned by Minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon and led by Rear Admiral Rob Stevens CB following last year’s shock announcement by BAE Systems to axe shipbuilding in Portsmouth with the loss of 1,000 jobs.

As previously reported, the Government revealed it will launch a “formal sale process” of the New Forest military port.

‘Unlock growth’ It is part of Ministry of Defence plans to raise £500m by disposing of sites across the UK.

Yesterday’s report states the port should be released “without delay” to “unlock growth” across Southamp-ton waterway and free up the Itchen riverside for marine manufacturing and residential development.

It identifies marine and maritime as the region’s largest sector and aims to reinvigorate the area’s global reputation for excellence through leadership, planning, new technologist and brand promotion.

But New Forest East MP Julian Lewis said: “Any commercial development must be in addition not in replacement to the enduring military function of the port.

“It should not cut across the sensitive area of the New Forest National Park or exceed the ability of the infrastructure to support it.”

The report, linked to the Solent Strategic Economic Plan, also recommends:

  •  Improving and increasing capacity transport links between and access to Southampton, Portsmouth and Marchwood ports;
  • Creating marine manufacturing hubs in both cities and the Isle of Wight for key firms to work more closely with councils, educational and research establishments;
  • Developing a national training centre to improve manufacturing techniques in the marine, oil, gas and construction industries;
  • Greater flexibility for Further Education (FE) colleges to adapt the national curriculum to meet local industry skills demands;
  • Creating five new science, technology, engineering mathematics (STEM) centres.

Business and civic leaders welcomed the announcements.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham said: “We have a very strong maritime tradition and we should build on it.”

Solent LEP chief executive Gary Jeffries said it will make the region a globally recognised “centre of excellence”, and Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Dunn said the proposals would “transform” the region.