Portsmouth taxpayers landed with £900,000 bill over Sir Ben Ainslie base

TheBen Ainslie America's Cup headquarters at The Camber taking shape.''Picture: Sarah Standing (142938-886)
TheBen Ainslie America's Cup headquarters at The Camber taking shape.''Picture: Sarah Standing (142938-886)
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ANGER has erupted at Portsmouth City Council after it was landed with a bill of almost £900,000 that could rise to £1m because of Sir Ben Ainslie’s race base development.

The News can reveal £863,000 was spent by the authority clearing the Camber Dock and moving firms so the Olympic sailor’s America’s Cup headquarters could be based there.

The government, according to the council, had committed to covering the clean-up cost through its grant to Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) for the project, which will pump millions into the city economy and create 100 new jobs.

The ‘deal’ was made with the Department for Business, Innovation and skills, in which Minister for Portsmouth Matt Hancock is also a minister.

But taxpayers have been dealt a blow because the £7.5m that BAR secured does not factor in anything for the council.

It comes at a time when the city has to make £37m worth of cuts in the next three years.

And the council could have to pay another £160,000 – £1.023m in total – for work for which it hasn’t yet sent invoices.

Cllr Luke Stubbs, Tory cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development, admitted no financial deal had been made in writing as things had to be done quickly to ensure foundation works could begin.

But he said there was still an expectation the government would cough up.

‘It’s infuriating that the council has been left a million out of pocket,’ said Cllr Stubbs.

‘While the additional business rates will effectively plug the gap, the government had promised to pick up the bill and this should be honoured.

‘On the plus side, the economic benefits that would be derived if the city gets to host the America’s Cup are huge.’

But BAR insists the council made a separate application for funding and its £7.5m grant was always going to fund the construction of the base and its 1851 Trust. As reported, Sir Ben has launched the charity to help get more young people into the sport.

Jonathan Goring, BAR team base project director, said: ‘We made a bid and received funds, and it was for those two areas.’

The council is expected to rake in more than £100,000 a year in business rates once the base is up and running.

Millions is also expected to be brought into the economy should Portsmouth become the host city for two America’s Cup World Series events, the first of which is scheduled for next summer.

But Cllr John Ferrett, Labour group leader, who asked Cllr Stubbs at the latest meeting of the full council for clarity over the situation, said the city was getting those benefits regardless.

‘It’s a bad decision, particularly at a time when we are cutting services,’ he said.

The council has also failed to recoup the money through other funding streams.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem group leader, said: ‘It’s a pity the government was prepared to produce costs for a private company, but not cover the cost for the council.’

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: ‘We worked hard to make the £7.5m grant happen so that BAR could be based in Portsmouth which Sir Ben feels is a natural home for his team’s permanent UK base, and we worked with the council on the package negotiations.’