ONE of Hampshire’s biggest military bases is up for sale, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Marchwood military port, which occupies a 300-acre site on the shores of Southampton Water, could change hands within the next four years.

It is not yet known whether the Army-run port, which played a key role in the Falklands conflict and both Gulf wars, will close or will continue under a private operator.

The centre, the only military facility of its type in the UK, supplies ships taking part in Army and Navy operations around the world.

Currently it employs 750 people, including 150 civilians, and handles about 100,000 tonnes of cargo a year.

New Forest East MP Julian Lewis said that the impact on the surrounding area would depend on whether the port was closed or run by someone else.

He said: “A large number of civilians are employed at the base and that must be top of our list of concerns.”

Councillor Alison Hoare, vicechairman of the parish council, said: “It’s incredibly worrying for Marchwood.

“The Army is very important to local shops and also help out at schools and fetes.

“They’re an integral part of the community and I’d very much like to see them remain.”

The news has sparked speculation that Associated British Ports (ABP) could launch an attempt to convert the facility, now called Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre, into a huge container terminal.

ABP’s plan to develop neighbouring Dibden Bay was thrown out in 2004 after a massive campaign by environmental groups.

However, ABP says that Southampton docks needs to expand and has warned that another plan for the area is almost certain to be submitted.

Last night ABP refused to rule out a bid for the site, which is situated directly opposite the docks.

A spokesman said: “With Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre being located within Southampton Water, ABP would certainly have a look at whatever further details are published by the Government.”

The sale forms part of the Government’s strategic defence review, which is likely to cost up to 42,000 jobs – including 25,000 civilian posts – and save £850m.

Last night the MoD confirmed that the centre could be used by private industry but said that no decisions had been taken.

A spokesman said: “The initial review has recommended that it be sold but a lot more work needs to be done before that’s confirmed.

“We need to look at a whole range of things, including whether any sale would be cost-effective and whether it would provide the MoD with value for money.

“A decision will be taken before the end of the spending review period, which finishes in 2014-2015.”

The threat to the centre comes just four years after nearby RAF Hythe was axed with the loss of 200 civilian jobs. The 11-acre shipyard was operated by the US Army, which used the site to service and repair military boats.