PLANS to build a multi-million-pound marine and maritime skills centre in the region have taken a huge step forward after funding was secured to carry out a feasibility study.

The £250,000 study into a new large structures composites centre in the Solent region has been agreed by the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The planned centre aims to build on marine and maritime research, and development assets to offer associated skills training.

It is hoped the centre will improve composite manufacturing techniques in the maritime, oil and gas and construction industries in partnership with local universities and regulators.

Although the location of the centre has yet to be chosen, the aim of the feasibility study aims to pinpoint where it can be built. The partnership has projected the centre will be built between 2015 and 2017.

It comes as a new group, tasked with driving the growth of the Solent’s marine and maritime sector, is to be set up and backed with £75,000 of LEP funding.

The Solent LEP has announced it will establish an accountable group, made up of public and private sector experts, to drive the long-term sustainable growth of the sector.

It follows the publication of a report by BIS (The Department for Business Innovation and Skills) in April to identify the steps that should be taken to secure the future of the marine and maritime industries across the Solent.

The Solent LEP has published its official response to the report and its commitment to back the “Marine and Maritime Working Group” with £75,000 in the first year forms part of the document.

The response also endorses the Ben Ainslie Racing Team proposal.

It has urged central Government to fund these projects at the earliest opportunity.

The LEP has also announced plans to launch Brand Solent – a global marine excellence brand for the Solent underpinned by Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup bid.

Sir Ben is proposing to design and build racing yachts, support vessels and a state-of-the-art challenger to bring the 35th America’s Cup to the Solent.

His team are seeking £8m from the Regional Growth Fund towards the £87m programme to build a team HQ and visitor centre, team and fitness facilities, and commercial functions.

Last month, the sailing legend announced plans to build a sailing base in Portsmouth but the proposals were met with anger by some residents in the area.

The Marine and Maritime Working Group will fall under the Solent LEP and be chaired by an independent marine expert from the private sector.

A LEP director will sit on the group, which will be bolstered by other senior figures from the Solent’s public and private sector. In addition, a marine sector manager will be seconded from Hampshire County Council to oversee the delivery of the group’s strategy in year one.