New UK Maritime Operations Centre created in Hampshire

Solent Coastguard helicopter rescuing a cyclist who got stuck in mudflats at East Head, Chichester Harbour, West Sussex in July last year It has not been decided if the new centre will also be based in Lee on Solent

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A new Maritime Operations Centre for the UK will be based in Hampshire under plans announced by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Initial plans to reduce the number of centres from 18 to eight have been scaled back.

Mr Hammond told the House of Commons 10 24-hour centres would remain.

The current Solent Coastguard station at Lee on Solent will be replaced by a new larger centre covering the Southampton and Portsmouth area.

It will operate 24 hours a day all through the year and will oversee eight sub-centres at Falmouth, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Belfast, Aberdeen, Humber, Stornaway and Shetland.

Under the plans, neighbouring Portland Coastguard station in Dorset which employs 25 staff, will be one of eight centres to close.

Currently 29 people work at Solent Coastguard but the new Maritime Operations Centre will have 96 staff, which will include watch keeping officers, search and rescue co-ordinators and regular coastguard staff, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

'Makes financial sense'

It has not yet been decided where the new centre will be based. That is subject to consultation, the MCA said.

Caroline Dinenage, Conservative MP for Gosport said: "I welcome the news that a centre will remain in the Solent area, which is one of the busiest sea-lanes in the world.

"However I would very strongly encourage the secretary of state to locate this centre in Lee on the Solent where we already have the expertise and vast local knowledge of experienced coastguard staff.

"The site is ideally located between Portsmouth and Southampton and the MCA already own a big part of the Daedalus Airfield there, meaning it makes good financial sense too."

The new operations centre will be backed up by the existing Dover centre, which will also be a 24-hour operation and oversee activity in the English Channel. There will also be a smaller station in London.

Mr Hammond confirmed that initial plans to cut 10 out of 18 UK centres had been scaled back.

The other seven centres that will be shut - over the period from 2012 to 2014/15 - are Clyde, Forth, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea.

The move comes after there were calls for the original plans to be dropped on safety grounds.

The original proposals were criticised in a report by the House of Commons transport committee, which said evidence it had received during its inquiry into coastguards had raised "serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if these proposals proceed".

The transport secretary's announcement follows a consultation process in which the government received about 1,800 submissions.

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