Southampton’s port operator has snapped up two industrial estates, saying the move will contribute to the city's economic success.
Associated British Port (ABP) says its purchase of the Marchwood and Cracknore Hard industrial parks will boost the local economy and have a “long-term value” to the company's operations.
But it has also led to fears the firm wants to develop nearby Dibden Bay “by the backdoor”, with the firm awaiting a decision on its bid for the military port next door.
The 113 acre sites had been put up for sale by owners Oceanic Estate, and ABP, represented by commercial property firm Lambert Smith Hampton, moved quickly to buy the site.
Among the firms with warehouses, distribution sites and offices on the site are Ocado, Royal Mail, LaFarge, Biffa, ATS Euromaster, Elliott Group and Veolia.
Most of the firms at the site have long-term leases.
ABP's port director Nick Ridehalgh said: “Once we were aware of Oceanic Estate's intention to sell the sites, we moved quickly to secure them.
“We see the sites as providing strategic long term value and they fit well within our existing business and landholdings.
“Our intention is to continue to develop the estates to increase the income and better provide for the essential B1, B2 and B8 uses that support and directly contribute to the economic success of the Port of Southampton and the wider region.”
But some local figures fear that if ABP are successful in their bid to buy Marchwood Military Port, which is next door to the industrial park, then the firm could resurrect a bid to develop on nearby Dibden Bay.
Controversial plans to build a huge container terminal there were thrown out on environmental grounds in 2004.
However the Daily Echo understands the estimated £1.5bn cost of creating a new container port could mean any proposals for a facility are unviable.
But the firm has previously expressed an interest in using land at the military port for car storage, freeing up other land in the Southampton port.
County councillor David Harrison said: “Are ABP purchasing it purely as an investment, or as a lot of people will suspect, as part of a strategic bid to get a foothold on this side of the River Test where they can start developing port operations, similarly to the ambitions they had for Dibden Bay?
“I fear that what we might see is an increasing amount of commercial activity which will have serious prejudice to the residents that I look after in Totton South and Marchwood.
“You only have to see just how stressed the local roads are here already, with HGV traffic thundering along our roads, to realised we just can't take any more.
“It can't be a coincidence that on the one hand ABP are bidding for the lease of Marchwood Military port, and on the other hand they are purchasing the industrial park.”
Beverley Golden, a Marchwood parish councillor, said: “My concern now is that this is Dibden Bay by the backdoor.
“It's clear to me, and you've only got to look at ABP's forward plan, that the only way they can develop is if they develop Dibden Bay.
“I'm sure that they have massive plans for this side of the water, I've no doubt about that.”