Torbay Ark Royal dive plan given £6.5m boost

HMS Ark Royal
Image caption HMS Ark Royal was axed in a 2010 defence review

Plans to turn the Royal Navy's former flagship HMS Ark Royal into a diving wreck off Devon have received a boost.

Torbay-based dive group Wreck the World said it had secured £6.5m to help buy, strip and then sink the carrier.

Scrap metal firm GH Newbery and Son and engineering firm A&P Falmouth have agreed to pay the £3.5m purchase cost and act as £3m guarantor respectively.

The Ministry of Defence is expected to announce who it will sell the vessel to within the next few weeks.

'Keep on giving'

The 210m (688ft) vessel, which was launched in 1981, was put up for sale after it was axed by the government in the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010.

Other proposals for it include a commercial heliport in London, a nightclub and school in China and a casino in Hong Kong.

Michael Byfield, 40, a diving instructor who runs Wreck the World with colleague James Doddrell, 31, said: "If it goes for scrap, especially to a foreign entity, there will be no social and economic benefit.

"With our project, once she is in the water she will keep on giving."

The reef project, which has the backing of Torbay Council, estimates that the wreck will cost £35,000 a year to maintain for divers, but could make up to £30m over five years for the local economy.

A 125-year lease for a site off the Devon coast has been agreed in principle with the Crown Estate, subject to a winning bid and meeting environmental requirements.

Peter Child, managing director of A&P Falmouth, said: "A&P Falmouth is pleased to have agreed in principal to act as parent company guarantor, which in turn would see us preparing the ship as an artificial reef for divers.

"This is a credible project and would be a positive outcome for the iconic ship, as well as both the South West tourism and ship repair industries."

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