Hampshire & Isle of Wight

America's Cup HQ bid part of Solent recovery plan

Sir Ben Ainslie Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sir Ben Ainslie was part of Oracle Team USA which won the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race in San Francisco last year

A bid to attract a British America's Cup sailing team to base itself in the Solent is included in a plan to boost the marine industry.

A government-commissioned report also recommends improving ports, research and manufacturing.

It follows BAE's decision to end shipbuilding at Portsmouth with the loss of 900 jobs.

Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie is putting together a UK team to challenge for the prestigious sailing prize.

The Transforming Solent report was launched by Minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon and its author Rear Adm Rob Stevens during a visit to Magma Structures in Portsmouth.

It makes 36 recommendations including improvements to Southampton, Portsmouth and Marchwood ports, boosting transport links and creating a centre of excellence in marine research and manufacturing.

There are 15 prioritised funding proposals, totalling £91m.

Lymington yachtsman Sir Ben won the America's Cup as navigator on board the US boat Oracle in San Francisco last year.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist is currently assembling a British team to challenge for the cup next time it is contested - which has yet to be decided.

The report said having Sir Ben's cup challenge base in the region would be a "huge opportunity to put the Solent on the global map".

It recommends spending £8m from the government's Exceptional Regional Growth Fund on supporting a bid.

"This initiative could deliver a major economic boost to the region, generating spin off technologies, public engagement and youthful interest in our sector. It could also be an iconic symbol of the Solent's recovery."

Mr Fallon said: "We are in close contact with Ben Ainslie's team, going through all the details and speedily assessing what can be done to support the project."

He said he hoped many of the other recommendations would be "very quickly put into practice".

"There are some very strong ideas to put Portsmouth and the Solent at the very centre of marine and maritime technology," he added.

'Range of options'

Sir Ben has previously said he would like the British challenge to be based in the south of England.

He welcomed the report, and said he had a "good dialogue" with government

"As we await 'the protocol', the rules of the America's Cup, to be announced we are continuing to consider a range of options to where the team could be based," he added.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: "I'm pleased with any plan that helps to create and sustain jobs in south east Hampshire. Government investment to help create these jobs is essential."

Labour described the report as "aspirational". Speaking after a meeting with the minister, Councillor John Ferrett said: "It does nothing to to deal with the immediate job cuts we're facing in the shipyard and other industries. If we those these jobs it'll be very difficult to get those skills back."

In November BAE announced that shipbuilding would cease at its Portsmouth yard, with the loss of more than 900 jobs, sparking protests from workers.

All Navy shipbuilding is set to move to Scotland this year.

BAE has said 940 staff posts and 170 agency workers will go at the Portsmouth site, which will retain repairs and maintenance work.

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