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Queen Elizabeth Class Base-porting: BT Solent Cables

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 19 November 2015

I have today laid before Parliament a Ministry of Defence Departmental Minute describing the contingent liability for the installation of British Telecom (BT) Solent cables in support of Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) base-porting.

It is necessary to conduct dredging works in the Solent and approaches to Portsmouth Harbour ahead of the arrival of the QEC aircraft carriers to ensure their safe transit to and from their home-port.

Two BT fibre-optic cables currently lie between the mainland and the Isle of Wight and must be removed prior to commencement of dredging works. BT have proposed that rather than burying the replacement cables they ’surface lay’ the cables to ensure they are relocated as soon as possible, minimising the impact to the capital dredging works which are scheduled to commence on 17 December.

Surface laying the new cable is not BT’s preferred solution as they consider the new cables will be more vulnerable to damage from fishing activity. BT requires the MOD to carry the liability for any repairs to the cables until they have naturally ‘self-buried’ into the seabed and forecast that the cables could be at risk to damage twice within the first five years and once in the following five.

If cable repairs are necessary, each one is estimated to cost £360,000. The maximum contingent liability against the MOD is therefore £1,080,000. The duration of the liability will be 10 years from the date the new BT cables are installed, with this activity scheduled to complete in early December. If the liability is called, provision for any payment will be managed through normal supply procedure. The Department will be noting this contingent liability in its accounts.