THE Hampshire Economic Partnership (HEP) has waded into the debate over the proposals for Dibden Bay with its support for plans to extend the Port of Southampton's container capacity.

HEP - the leading economic partnership in the county - believes that a new container terminal would both protect the port's current position and, in time, deliver still greater prosperity for the area. Currently, Southampton contributes £1.3 billion every year to the local economy from port related industries.

A resolution supporting the proposed Dibden Terminal was unanimously agreed at the latest HEP Board meeting, although the members stressed that this support was based on economic factors. The Board was not in a position to comment on environmental or infrastructure issues.

Bryan Davies, chairman of HEP, said: "The development of the new Dibden Terminal would create almost 3,000 new jobs - around 1,800 on site and 1,100 construction related jobs over a ten-year period. It would ensure that the port maintains its competitive position against its continental rivals by being able to handle the very large ships which now dominate this market.

"That said, HEP does recognise that many people have expressed environmental

concerns and we are confident that these will be explored during the planning process."

The Port of Southampton enjoys a unique location, being on the edge of the main international shipping channel serving mainland Europe. The port has invested more than £60 million over the last few years to support its container trade, which is dominated by multi national shipping company alliances.

More than 10,000 full time jobs are directly dependent on port activities - the equivalent of four per cent of jobs in the Southampton and Winchester travel-to-work area.