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Johnny Mercer: A decade ago, Devonport Dockyard was on its knees. Today it is expanding at pace.

April 22, 20240

Johnny Mercer MP is the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs


Back in 2015 when I was a political novice first running to become the MP for Plymouth Moor View, I pledged that I would expand Devonport Dockyard for the first time in a generation. Labour laughed at me, and labelled it impossible.


But I understood the importance of Devonport to Plymouth’s identity and what a thriving dockyard would mean for the future of our City. Yet again, Plymouth’s local sell-outs – who are all too happy to put down our city – have been proven wrong.


HMNB Devonport, the largest naval base in western Europe, is the jewel in Plymouth’s crown. Occupying 650 acres, the dockyard hugs the West of Plymouth with 15 dry docks, four miles of waterfront, 25 tidal berths, and five basins. Since 1691, it has formed the backdrop to our city’s rich seafaring history. Surviving the Plymouth Blitz and, in more recent history, an uncertain economic future and hungry land developers, it has proved incredibly resilient.


However, Devonport’s future was in jeopardy back in 2013. After years of neglect, the Office for Nuclear Regular placed it under special measures. Local politicians had failed to address serious safety concerns on ageing facilities, stretched resources, and increasing demand.


A string of incidents ensued with a worker shockingly receiving an internal dose of radioactivity and safety reporting procedures being described as ‘significantly below standard’. It was a sad reflection of how our city, despite its immense contribution to our nation’s storied history, had been taken for granted by successive governments.


Once elected in May 2015, I was hell-bent on overturning a generation of decline at Devonport. I set about winning the contract to port-base the new, Clyde-built Type 26 frigates at the dockyard. I would not take no for an answer or, as a proud champion of Plymouth, let the naysayers continue to talk down our city’s chances. I wrote to the Prime Minister back in 2018 and campaigned rigorously to ensure that all eight of these world-class vessels would be based right here in Plymouth.


The Type 26 will replace the eight current Type 23 anti-submarine warfare frigates based at Devonport, ensuring that a strong naval presence remains at the Plymouth dockyard. The first three Type 26 Global Combat Ships will enter service before 2030, followed by a further five, providing a strong deterrent against Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic. Undertaking three core roles – warfighting, maritime security, and international engagement – they will be the “workhorse” of the Royal Navy fleet.


Devonport is the Royal Navy’s main site for nuclear submarine maintenance. Last November, Babcock signed a £750 million contract with the MoD’s Submarine Delivery Agency to deliver future submarine capability. I am fortunate to have had a close working relationship with Babcock since being elected. I welcome this huge investment into Plymouth.


The programme will safeguard telecommunication cables and pipelines and draw an additional 1,000 jobs into our the city. Furthermore, the Government’s £2bn overhaul of Devonport’s facilities, which includes Kier BAM Joint Venture’s refurbishment of 10 Dock, will help fix prolonged infrastructure issues and ensure that our nuclear deterrent is not compromised.


Devonport’s contribution to our local economy cannot be overstated, employing 2,500 service personnel and civilians, supporting roughly 400 local businesses, and generating around ten percent of our city’s income. Every week I meet with constituents, businesses, and organisations that benefit from the dockyard’s economic pull. The Type 26 Frigate and £750 million submarine contract are huge wins for the city, helping to secure our dockyard for another generation of Plymothians.


Labour don’t have a plan for our iconic dockyard – or our county. Both locally and nationally, their only strategy is to dine out on public opinion, rather than to offer a positive vision. People in Plymouth are waking up to this – I hear it on the doors every weekend.


This way of doing politics goes against every fibre in my body. I went into politics to get things done for Plymothians, something I hope is supported by my record of delivery for Devonport. Contrast that with Labour, which sent the dockyard into special measures. Bereft of any ideas, there is no indication that they have a plan that will lead to any other outcome than that of 2013.

Luke Jones

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