The Glasgow shipyard is expanding. The facility will allow huge Type 26 frigates to be built entirely indoors at their shipyard in Govan – partly thanks to public funding. BAE hopes to construct the next batch of five Type 26 frigates, bringing the total built up to eight, inside the purpose-built facility. As things stand today, the first three ships are being built inside a much smaller shipbuilding hall in sections before being moved outside and welded together. It works, but it’s not very efficient and exposes the insides of complex vessels to the elements.
Readers with a particular interest in this industry might recall that BAE Systems submitted a planning application last year that would see the current shipbuilding hall at its Govan shipyard in Glasgow expand out to Govan Road. That plan is, however, no longer the preferred option as the scheme couldn’t leave the drawing board due to the requirement to demolish historically significant buildings.
BAE Systems Glasgow shipyard. Printed with permission courtesy of BAE Systems plc
Revised plan improves the city’s shipbuilding capacity
The new plan is simple: drain the wet basin dock area beside the current shipbuilding hall, fill it in and build a massive new shipbuilding hall on top. The good thing about this plan for taxpayers already dealing with a delay to first-in-class HMS Glasgow is that the ‘wet basin’ is an area of the site not in use for shipbuilding. So the hall would be constructed with minimal disruption to the ships currently being built.
I spoke to Paul Sweeney, Glasgow Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), and former BAE shipyard employee, who told me that the revised plan would improve the city’s shipbuilding capability. He said:
“Constructing ships outdoors in Glasgow brings with it major productivity drawbacks, most obviously due to adverse weather, so BAE’s ambitious plan to construct a fully indoor ship assembly hall over the wet basin at Govan shipyard heralds a dramatic improvement for shipbuilding infrastructure in the city. After the disappointing cancellation of the planned ‘frigate factory’ at Scotstoun shipyard in 2015, this revised proposal for a ship assembly hall at Govan is very welcome indeed.”
Clydeside skyline will be dramatically changed and shipbuilding reputation reasserted
Sweeney also told me that the size of the facility is expected to be very impressive and will dominate the Glasgow Skyline. Sweeney said, “This new hall will probably become the largest building by enclosed volume in Glasgow, if not Scotland, and will make a dramatic impact on the Clydeside skyline. I hope that the competitive advantages it brings will help to reassert Glasgow’s global reputation for having shipbuilding capabilities that are of the highest quality”.
This effort to enhance the capacity of the yard will proceed with some public funding. At a recent meeting of the Defence Committee, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace revealed that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is investing in the BAE shipyard to increase its capacity and productivity for future work. Wallace told the committee, “I am delighted that BAE is going to put a covered build hall in place. We will be contributing to it as the MoD and the customer, but that is the sort of thing that is about the cultural shift and investing in the yard, so that when, whatever happens one day – there is not a naval contract or it wins another contract to build a civil ship – it can show that productivity”.
Jobs and economic impact of shipbuilding on the Clyde and in Rosyth essential to Scotland
Head of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions James Marques recently testified to the Scottish government why shipbuilding is essential to the Scottish economy, with the 6,000 direct jobs in the sector indirectly supporting a further 9,055 in the supply chain – over 15,000 in total.
Additionally, almost functioning to drive home the point that highly skilled industry jobs like these matter to the economy here in Scotland, an economic analysis of the defence shipbuilding highlights the value of those jobs. An analysis of the sector by the Fraser of Allander Institute revealed that £162.7mn in wages are supported by BAE’s yards on the Clyde, and £105.9mn in wages are supported by the Babcock yard in Rosyth. Those figures are from 2019 and predate the expansion of both yards.
The frigate programme or BAE’s business case could unravel if planning department stalls
The plan looks good, the industry is expanding and more highly paid jobs are coming with it as more ships are ordered and more apprentices are to be trained. Sweeney, however, warned that work must not slip, or it will become a waste of money, explaining that the hall will need to be completed in time for the start of construction of ship 4 in the Type 26 frigate programme or the business case will ‘unravel’.
As a taxpayer, I hope that Glasgow City Council’s planning department ensures consent is given rapidly and outside normal lead times so that the yard can get this new facility built quickly. Sweeney advised we keep an eye on this particular point. So let’s see, shall we?