Conference and cultural centre would be fitting future for Lusty

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For more than 30 years HMS Illustrious has sailed the oceans of the world, a symbol of our maritime might.

But in 2014 the Portsmouth-based ship, affectionately known as Lusty, will be taken out of naval service – and faces an uncertain future.

The worst-case scenario is that she ends up as scrap, turned into tin cans and razor blades.

Illustrious’s sister ships Ark Royal and Invincible have already been broken up for recycling.

So we’re pleased to report today that a group of residents and businesses in the Portsmouth area are determined not to let that happen again.

Instead they are exploring the idea of buying the last of the navy’s three Invincible-class aircraft carriers and converting her into a conference and cultural centre capable of bringing international events to the city.

The Ministry of Defence has asked for ideas on how best to preserve Lusty and a floating centre would be an excellent way to keep her in Portsmouth while creating a distinctive venue and a heritage attraction.

It would also meet the government’s criteria that any ideas for her future use must include plans for part or all of the ship to be developed for heritage purposes.

Private companies, charities, and trusts across the UK are being invited to come forward with their ideas for her future use.

We already know that Hull would like to have Lusty.

But we must do all we can to ensure she stays here in her home city.

This is an important ship with a long and proud history. She saw service in the Gulf War and the conflict in Afghanistan, plus supported evacuations from Sierra Leone and Lebanon.

Yes, converting her is not going to be cheap. Several million pounds will be required to buy the 22,000-tonne warship and transform her into a conference and cultural centre.

But where there’s a will, there’s often a way. The two city MPs are behind the plan and we look forward to part of our naval heritage enjoying a new lease of life right here in Portsmouth.