PLANS for a controversial power station in Southampton are still in place – but another one could be built just 20 miles away.
The Daily Echo can reveal initial discussions have taken place between the Ministry of Defence and the firm behind a planned giant biomass plant to build one at Portsmouth’s naval base.
An application to build a £300m plant at Southampton Docks was submitted by Helius Energy in 2011 – prompting protests from people living in communities nearby.
But it has emerged that Portsmouth City Council facilitated talks between the Navy and the energy firm in an attempt to help power two planned aircraft carriers after being approached by Southampton City Council.
The move was confirmed by Portsmouth City Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who told the Daily Echo that talks are currently stalled as the MoD makes its decision about shipbuilding in the city.
Meanwhile Paul Nichols, head of planning and sustainability at Southampton City Council, told delegates at a meeting to form a new docks forum that Helius Energy is still pursuing plans to build a power station in Southampton.
Now opposition councillors in both cities have expressed their surprise at the talks.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: “We have talked to Helius and put them in touch with the Royal Navy because the Navy in Portsmouth needs a new power station in the dockyard.
“If shipbuilding ceases there is a large building available for a power station – if it doesn’t they will have to build one.
“I don’t know if it will be instead of the one in Southampton or on top of it.
“If we don’t have a new power station in the dockyard, when the aircraft carriers come in and are plugged into the main supply, Portsmouth will go dark. We have to have a new power station or we will have to put extra pylons on Portsdown Hill.”
Cllr Jeremy Moulton, ward representative for Freemantle, brought up the issue at the dock forum meeting after letters were sent to residents in Millbrook by Cllr David Furnell claiming that Portsmouth City Council is “very keen” to take the power plant “off our hands”.
But Cllr Asa Thorpe, pictured below, ward representative for Millbrook, told the meeting: “Our previous leader Richard Williams was told there were no viable alternatives for Helius from a number of other people when it came to the siting of this biomass plant.
“One of the things he did as part of our ongoing bid to make friends in Portsmouth was to suggest they would need to be looking at some industry when things start to change in terms of the maintenance of ships.
“Gerald Vernon-Jackson was very interested in what we had to say and we suggested that Helius make contact with the MoD and with Portsmouth City Council and suggest that, as we didn’t want it and Portsmouth did, then it might be worthwhile having that conversation.
“As I understand it, the last conversation I had about it weeks and months ago is that Portsmouth were still in negotiations with both the MoD and Helius as to the siting or otherwise of a power plant.
“What it would mean for us was that it wasn’t taken off the table at that point as Helius might want to site two power plants in the south.”
Cllr Moulton told the Daily Echo that the city’s Conservative Party was unaware of discussions between Portsmouth City Council, Helius and the MoD.
He said: “The last we heard is they (Helius) were planning to submit a Southampton scheme in the summer.
“I personally wrote to them a few weeks ago for an update and they were adamant that they were pressing ahead in Southampton. We need the truth to come out.”
The news of a potential power station in Portsmouth was also met with dismay from Cllr Donna Jones, leader of the city’s Conservative group.
She said: “I am very concerned these discussions have been going on behind closed doors for a new power station.
“It will have a huge impact on the local Portsmouth area.
“You need community engagement and my main concern is I knew nothing about it.”
A spokesperson for Helius said: “Several alternative sites for the proposed scheme have been suggested through the pre-application consultation. Helius Energy has sought to investigate all available sites and will report on these investigations within the environmental statement that will accompany the application for development consent.”
A spokesman for the MoD said: “MoD is working with Portsmouth City Council to scope the full range of options for meeting our future power requirements. No decisions have yet been taken.”