Woolston’s ship comes in… finally?




Richard Heap

Woolston’s ship comes in… finally?

Ten years ago, I was standing on a disused industrial site in Woolston, in southeast Southampton, and talking to some commercial property agents.

As a fledgling reporter for Property Week magazine, I was dispatched to the UK city to find out about plans to redevelop a site next to the River Itchen that was formerly used by shipbuilder Vosper Thornycroft. Don’t believe me? Here’s the paywalled link.

My story then was about an exciting-sounding redevelopment plan that could reverse the decline of the suburb since the closure of the shipyard in 2003. It sounded great. It just didn’t happen, and the site has remained resolutely empty ever since.

But potentially not for much longer. This week, Southampton City Council has given the green light to a plan by developer Oceanic Estates to build a wind turbine blade factory on the site, which is adjacent to the mouth of the River Itchen. The site is set to be occupied by Blade Dynamics, which was acquired by General Electric in 2015.

Specifically, Oceanic has been awarded planning permission to build a factory that is able to operate at all hours, day and night. Blade Dynamics director Robert Sanders has said that most of the activities are quiet and happen inside with the doors closed, meaning that nearby residents would not notice the factory. But this is not enough for some objectors, who have warned they could face “enormous disruption”.

Now, I don’t live there of course. While I spent my university days in Southampton, I have only ventured out to this piece of industrial land once, in September 2007. But, I think it is a good idea. This is a long-awaited redevelopment that can bring activity to a disused and blighted site; and create up to 150 jobs. It also shows that the wind sector can bring jobs and economic activity into the heart of British communities.

But I won’t get too excited until I see the factory being built. As a cub reporter, I have been excited about the potential of the Vosper Thornycroft site once in my life.

Maybe now, ten years on, it will actually deliver!