THE future of Portland as a helicopter base has been secured after more than two years of uncertainty, the Echo can reveal.

But campaigners say they are still disappointed that the search and rescue couldn't be saved.

As reported in the Echo, South Dorset MP Richard Drax has been working with Heli Operations– a company supplying trained helicopter personnel to companies worldwide – on a business plan for the Portland helicopter base site at Osprey Quay.

We can reveal today that contracts will be exchanged in the new year after Heli Operations was named the preferred bidder.

The Maritime Coastguard Agency currently rents the site from the Homes and Communities Agency and it will have to hand it back in 2017, despite a long and passionate campaign by constituents.

A petition signed by 100,000 people was taken all the way to Downing Street– but the government had made up its mind.

It sparked fears for the future after figures revealed Portland is one of the busiest bases in the UK, called out more than 150 times in a year.

But the new contract with Heli Operations at least means there will be a refuelling facility for the search and rescue coastguard helicopter on the island after 2017.

Although the SAR will still have to come from Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire, the refuelling station means it will be able to spend more time in the area when it is called, potentially saving lives.

Mayor of Portland Sandy West said she had hoped that with a new Prime Minister the government would reconsider the withdrawal of SAR.

"It's all very well having a refuelling base but it doesn't beat a helicopter based there. Lives will be lost. More and more people are coming here, climbing, sailing, walking on the coast. My advice now would be– don't."

Mr Drax said that considering the government won't change its mind on the SAR, this news is a 'fantastic' compromise and a 'major step forward' in keeping helicopters on Portland.

"Having lost our search and rescue, I was very keen to keep the rotors turning on Portland, at the very least because the search and rescue helicopter will be able to refuel there, therefore increasing the time it can stay searching in the area," he said.

"It also means retaining all the skilled jobs that for so long have been in the area."

Steve Gladston, CEO of Heli Operations, was in the Fleet Air Arm and trained at Portland.

He said:"We have got some training contracts we will be able to announce soon and we are clearly also looking to retain jobs there. We also want to grow and build opportunities for apprenticeships. It's great news for the area.

"We will provide a refuelling facility for the coastguard.".

Mr Gladston thanked Richard Drax for helping secure the future of the base.

"Richard [and Suzy Patterson, Richard's assistant ] have been integral in securing the future of the base. What they are doing is really just standing up for the people of Portland.

"It is a testament to their concern for the people of the constituency.

"From what we have seen, the overwhelming majority want Portland to remain as a base for helicopters.

"We had to go through a competitive process but we really feel the best use of the facility is as a helicopter base, continuing a history that has been ongoing for the past 50 years or so."