It’s the end of the elevator that never had lift-off

100540-9659 SPINNAKER_(NEWS) MRW 18/2/2010''The Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth''Picture: Malcolm Wells (100540-9659)
100540-9659 SPINNAKER_(NEWS) MRW 18/2/2010''The Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth''Picture: Malcolm Wells (100540-9659)
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PORTSMOUTH City Council has given up on the Spinnaker Tower’s external lift.

The decision has been taken six years after the tower opened, during which time the glass attraction has never worked properly.

Leader of the council Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The lift was a very difficult engineering feat, as it was attached on one side only and climbed the tower on a curved path.

‘It’s like the Nasa Space Shuttle programme. When that was first developed there were hopes that trips into space could almost follow one another on a weekly basis but in fact there were great complications which meant that the Shuttle programme did not fulfil everybody’s hopes.

‘People have to learn from the difficulties and from here we have to make sure that the tower continues to be as successful and profitable as it can be.’

The council voted unanimously to accept proposals from strategic director Roger Ching at a secret session yesterday.

The meeting was behind closed doors because commercial information was discussed.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We have attempted everything we can to ensure that the lift would work the way we want it to. We’ve brought in every lift consultant in the country but no solution has been found so we will now negotiate over what happens next.’

Councillors agreed to drop plans to make the lift work, inform Continuum, the company that runs the tower, and advise the Big Lottery Fund in the hope that it will endorse the decision.

In 2006 the council withheld £250,000 from construction firm Carillion, which built the tower, because the lift did not work. Last summer the council agreed to pay £200,000 to Carillion to settle the disagreement, and yesterday it said it aims to transfer the remaining £50,000 from that pot of money to the Millennium Walkway scheme on the seafront.

Problems with the lift first became clear when it got stuck two weeks before the tower opened and again on its opening day when guests and dignitaries were suspended 40ft in the air.

Although lift company Cotswold Lifts said it had fixed the fault, Continuum, which took over the running of the tower from a company called Heritage, said it was too unreliable to use as it could be expected to get stuck up to twice a day.

Other problems with the glass lift included a short period in which its doors were found to open wide enough for a person to fall out while it was in operation.

The council has not decided to remove the lift but accepted advice that a fully-working replacement would be too expensive at an estimated £1m.

Robin Sparshatt, a former councillor, who was mayor at the time the tower opened, said: ‘It’s a great shame. Despite what was reported by national press at the time I was not in it on the opening day when it got stuck.

‘I have never been up in the lift and now it seems like everyone else in the city will never be able to but I was proud to be there when the tower opened and I’m very proud it’s there still. I hope it will be there for many years.’

In 2008 it was estimated the lift being out of action had cost Continuum and the council up to £3.5m in lost revenue.