Plan is fitting way to keep Lusty where she belongs

BLAISE TAPP: 'Tis the season to be more giving to the lonely

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It’s a grand plan which is going to take an almighty effort to be delivered.

But there can few doubts over how much of a shot in the arm it would be to keep HMS Illustrious in Portsmouth.

After more than 30 years of sailing the oceans of the world, the city-based ship will be decommissioned next year.

As a result, Lusty – as she is affectionately known – faces an uncertain future, with the Ministry of Defence calling on ideas on how best to preserve one of the biggest symbols of our navy’s military might.

As we reveal today, an ambitious plan has been unveiled by a group of Portsmouth-based businesses to buy Lusty and turn the helicopter carrier into a floating world-class conference centre, boasting a heritage museum, galleries, places to eat and a hotel.

If fulfilled, it would generate millions for Portsmouth’s economy and give us another tourist destination to be proud of.

Of course, there will be sceptics to the project. And with funding in its infancy, you could be forgiven for labelling this as another pipe dream that will never see the light of day.

But at a time when the city is crying out for a welcome boost following the loss of shipbuilding from its dockyard, we believe every ounce of support should be given to see this become a reality.

If it doesn’t, Lusty could be destined for the scrapyard – as was the end result for sister ships Ark Royal and Invincible in recent years.

Alternatively, this important 22,000-tonne ship with a long and proud naval history could be heading for another UK destination, with Hull councillors eager to bring her to the Yorkshire city.

We must not allow that to happen.

There can be little doubt that the conference centre plan will need millions of pounds to get off the ground.

But the long-term economic benefits it would reap would make it worth every penny.

Lusty should remain in Portmouth. The conference centre proposal would be a fitting way to allow that to happen.