THE leader of Southampton City Council has accused the government of ‘bribing’ Sir Ben Ainslie into building his America’s Cup headquarters in Portsmouth.
Councillor Simon Letts made the claim at a meeting after being grilled by Tory opponents over why Southampton didn’t push harder to secure Sir Ben’s sailing base.
Conservative councillor Paul O’Neill, asked Cllr Letts; ‘As Southampton used to be called the home of ocean sailing, does the council now regret not having the vision and determination to push more effectively for this?’
But Cllr Letts hit back: ‘What was happening was that the Portsmouth dockyard was closing and ministers running around in a blind panic thinking of ways to show they cared about the city.’
He said Sir Ben was ‘bribed by government’ with the funding, while the fact that Portsmouth also has more open spaces with a view over the waterfront was also a factor.
Cllr Letts said both he and Southampton Itchen MP, Royston Smith, then leader of Conservative opposition, had met with four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben to discuss moving to Southampton.
But Sir Ben’s Land Rover BAR sailing squad has strongly denied the claims.
In a statement, a Land Rover BAR spokesman said: ‘In December 2013, after securing the initial funding to start the America’s Cup campaign from the team’s founding investors, we immediately started looking for a permanent base in the UK, preferably in the Solent region.
‘After an extensive search, three sites were identified as fitting the team’s operational criteria – The Camber, land next to the cruise ship terminal in Southampton Dockyard and Centenary Quay in Woolston.
‘The ABP site was quickly ruled out as a proposed development deal had already been agreed with another party.
‘The team carried out a thorough evaluation of both remaining sites. It was a difficult decision, with both sites offering great potential.
‘The government funding application allowed the team to locate at any of the identified sites in the Solent and was not specifically linked to Portsmouth.’