Ten years on, the Spinnaker Tower is Portsmouth’s pride

Kevin Porter

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What immediately comes to mind when you picture Portsmouth?

The Guildhall and HMS Victory are sure contenders, but many people nowadays would no doubt think of the Spinnaker Tower as the symbol of the city.

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Though its construction was fraught with delays and soaring costs, the white-framed monolith has grown to become of the south coast’s most recognised and best-loved attractions.

General manager Sarah Webb, 33, says nothing matches the panoramas from the observation decks.

‘There’s no other tower in the world that has a view like this,’ she says.

‘Most other towers are very city-oriented, but here you can also see the city but you’ve also got beautiful views of the sea and I think that’s what makes this place unique.’

A gaze from the tower’s observation confirms Sarah’s claim.

More than 100m below us we can see a navy ship leaving Portsmouth Harbour, Solent ferries making their way around the dock and construction work humming away at Ben Ainsley’s America’s Cup base.

During clear spells staff have even been able to glimpse the stricken cargo ship Hoegh Osaka since she ran aground in the Solent.

This year, the Spinnaker Tower is marking its tenth anniversary with a raft of events including exhibitions, giveaways and photography competitions.‘We really want the city to engage and send us their photos or email us their photos of the tower, Sarah says.

‘We’re also looking at getting the tower made out of Lego.’

Celebrations will reach a crescendo on October 18, 10 years to the day since the landmark opened to the public.

The plan is to have 10 other famous towers around the world light up to repesent 10 candles on a birthday cake. - Kuala Lumpur’s Menara Tower, Toronto’s CN Tower and possibly even New York City’s Empire State Building will take part.

‘That would be pretty epic,’ Sarah says.

The 170m-high tower was first proposed in 1995 as a millennium-marking project. The design was chosen after a public vote and construction began in 2001. The tower was finally finished six years behind scheduale in 2005 at a cost of £35.6m.

Portsmouth City Council, which owns the structure, ended up contributing £11.1m despite an earlier pledge the public would not have to pay a penny towards the project.

But even though Portsmouth residents were initially wary of the cost, many, including the tower’s operations manager, Simon Wildgust, have no doubt the investment has paid off.

Simon, 38, of Cowplain, says: ‘We’ve had three million visitors and you can imagine that at least half of those are coming solely to visit us.

‘Then they spend money in the shops and restaurants and other attractions.

‘When you look at the graphics they did of the torch going from Beijing to London for the Olympics the only icon they showed on the south coast was the Spinnaker Tower.

‘Thatit really shows that its captured everyone’s attention.’

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing.

Notably, there was the external glass-cased lift which broke down on opening day, trapping the tower’s project manager, David Greenhalgh, and others for 90 minutes before their rescue by abseiling engineers.

The lift has never worked since, and most of its track has now been removed.

But a positive spin-off of the lift saga has meant the tower is able to be used for abseiling.

‘It has really been the silver lining, says Sarah.

‘If the lift was there we wouldn’t be able to do abseiling at all.’

There have been 3,500 abseils since the activity was allowed in August 2011.

Many abseilers have taken the plunge for charity, including ‘Daring Doris’ Long, who took part to celebrate her 100th birthday.

The tower has also become a popular wedding venue. Since starting to offer ceremonies in 2010, 143 couples have opted to tie the knot at 344ft.

Sarah says the tower also hosts many ‘wedding parties’ - soirees thrown by couples after getting married abroad.

‘That’s becoming more fashionable than an actual ceremony these days,’ she says.

Council leader Councillor Donna Jones said says the Spinnaker Tower has become one of Britain’s most iconic buildings.

She says the structure has a special significance for her, as the project’s early financial were was part of the reason she entered politics.

‘I had read about the overspending, and having worked for a bank for over 15 years, I thought that I knew about money and that I could do better than that.

‘It’s an iconic structure that’s been involved in many national charity campaigns and it’s really put Portsmouth on the map.’

WHERE: The Spinnaker Tower is at Gunwharf Quays, PO1 3TT

WHEN: Open for visitors daily from 10am to 6pm.

COST: Standard price is £8.95, and £6.70 for residents in some PO postcodes.

EMAIL: info@spinnakertower.co.uk

WEB: spinnakertower.co.uk

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