Appledore Shipyard will close on March 15, Devon’s economy boss has said.

Speaking at Devon County Council's full council meeting on Thursday (February 21), Councillor Rufus Gilbert, cabinet member for economy and skills, named the date in which the shipyard site would shut its doors.

Babcock announced in November 2018 that they were to leave the North Devon shipyard when its lease expired and despite a union-led protest march, a 9,500-strong petition and the efforts of local MPs, their decision remains unchanged.

Councillor Gilbert had been asked by Councillor Rob Hannaford, leader of the opposition Labour group, to report on the recent spate of big regional job losses.

He told councillors that there was a 'wide variety of reasons' for the job losses, and not a 'single reason', alluding to Cllr Hannaford's suggestion that Brexit uncertainty was to blame.

Councillor Gilbert said: "Appledore Shipyard site is currently expected to close on March 15, 2019.

"Mitigations and options to help the local community and explore ways of retaining shipbuilding, or marine capabilities at the site are being explored by local partners, including Devon County Council, with a few potential options to keep staff at Appledore still being explored.

The rally to save Appledore Shipyard in Bideford today (Saturday). Picture: Sarah HowellsThe rally to save Appledore Shipyard in Bideford today (Saturday). Picture: Sarah Howells

"This includes tentative exploration of offers from potential bidders and the local MP continues to make a strong case for retention of operations in Appledore.

"A task force has been formed and is underway, including DCC, Trades Unions and Job Centre Plus."

He said that the reasons given for the expected closure of Appledore were that the current orders being built at the site have been completed, that Babcock is consolidating operations at its main Devonport site and that there are few current orders with the company.

He also said there had been a significant delay to the next round of Frigate commissioning by Government.

Councillor Gilbert added: "In total 198 people (at last count) were employed by Babcock at Appledore, with a direct impact of £6.3million to the local economy.

"A further 66 jobs and £3.3million is attributable to Babcock in Appledore through supply chain and induced effects.

The rally to save Appledore Shipyard in Bideford today (Saturday). Picture: Sarah HowellsThe rally to save Appledore Shipyard in Bideford today (Saturday). Picture: Sarah Howells

"Babcock has stated that nobody at Appledore will need to lose their job, however, relocation to Devonport would be expected by most employees not taking redundancy.

"We are exploring avenues to keep as much of the skilled workforce in relevant employment in the Appledore area, particularly due to the strong economic and social links the company has with the local community.

"At present though Appledore Shipyard will close on March 15, but I have reason to believe that there are interested parties in taking the site over."

Councillor Hannaford said he hoped that the site can be saved and the jobs kept, but added he was worried over reports in the media that demolition work appeared to have begun.

Councillor Andrew Eastman, who represents the Northam ward in which Appledore sits, questioned whether the closure date was correct, given North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones and Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox have both been lobbying for the potential construction of the Scillonian III passenger ferry to take place at Appledore.

But Councillor Gilbert responded: "I was updated just before the start of the council meeting with the date of March 15."