PLANNING chiefs have approved proposals to refurbish an important part of Southampton's maritime heritage.

Associated British Ports (ABP) has been given consent to replace the paving beside the King George V Dry Dock in Western Avenue and install a new safety barrier.

The massive structure - once the biggest dry dock in the world - is currently used by vessels involved in the bulk handling trade.

ABP's application referred to broken paving beside the dock and said it needed to provide "adequate surfacing" to enable a mobile crane to operate safely.

"In addition the safety barrier to prevent people, plant and machinery from accessing the dock is time-expired and needs replacing.

"The barrier is now in very poor condition and regularly requires welding back together, which is becoming increasingly difficult because of its age and condition."

Opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1933 the dock was built to enable the docks to repair and maintain the largest ocean liners of their day.

The application said: "The dock has historic interest as a surviving example of such from the heyday of the transatlantic liner era as well as its innovative design and construction."

The proposal was supported by the City of Southampton Society and the city council's historic environment officer.

The officer said: "The proposals appear necessary to ensure the dockside continues to operate and function in a safe and secure manner.

"The proposals were discussed in depth during the pre-application process, where it was noted that the works would have a minimal impact on historic fabric."

The officer said the dock had seen "frequent and necessary changes" that were needed to cater for new port activities and the ever-increasing size of vessels.

"The current proposals would be another such change, and would be considered an acceptable level of intervention.

"The works would also ensure that the historic dock would continue to operate as originally intended and would help secure its long-term use."

A report produced by planning officers added: "The existing quay side barrier is not an original feature of the quayside and has gone beyond an economic repair.

"The proposed works will not adversely harm the character and appearance of the listed dry dock and will support port operations."

The 1,200ft long dock was opened on July 26 1933 and became operational the following year. It was the seventh and final dry dock to be built at Southampton. Two of the first vessels to use it were the Cunard liner Majestic and the Queen Mary.

Its use as a dry dock ended in 2005 and it is now a permanently flooded wet dock.