A freefall ride that will see people plunge off a platform on the Spinnaker Tower has been branded an 'ugly blemish'.
Tower operators have won planning permission to install a Powerfan – a motor and platform 394ft in the air – on the back of the Portsmouth landmark. This will allow people to jump off attached to a wire and fall safely to the ground.
Bosses say the ride is needed to boost dwindling visitor numbers now the buzz around the tower opening has worn off.
But the Architects Panel, a group of local experts asked to comment on planning applications by Ports-mouth City Council, criticised the plan saying it would be an 'ugly and disfiguring blemish'.
Tory councillor Terry Henderson also urged planners to reject the ride.
He said: 'This is a world-class attraction. Does it need this sort of addition?
'No. It is not a funfair or theme park.'
The ride – which will jut out about 6ft from the tower – will be disguised by a 'fin' either side and will be the same colour as the tower.
Powerfan said it has consulted the architect who originally designed the Spinnaker Tower – Hedley Greentree – in an attempt to minimise its impact.
Sales and marketing director Mike Turner said: 'Everyone has their own opinion. We came up with the best package. It is so small it will be a speck.
'And when we remove it the tower will be restored to exactly how it was.'
Despite the objections, members of the city council's planning committee voted 5-2 in favour of the ride.
They now plan to write to city lawyers to ensure they are protected against any damage it might cause.
Committee chairman Darron Phillips said: 'It will be quite small and you'll hardly be able to see it – I think it's quite exciting.'
Tower operators say the ride, which will be the first of its kind in the northern hemisphere, will attract visitors from across the country.
Kevin Smith, director of Heritage Projects Portsmouth, which runs the tower, said: 'Year on year numbers are naturally falling.
'Perception of the tower is that it is a one-dimensional offer.
'There is a need for investment, but there is limited internal space. This is an opportunity to provide a unique offer.'
Powerfan is still drawing up contracts with the council and tower bosses.
They hope to open the ride three months after contracts are in place.
A 90-MINUTE EXPERIENCE
People using Powerfan will access it through the inside of the tower.
Groups of around eight will get kitted out in parachute suits and use the internal lift to go to viewing deck.
They will have a chance to look around, before using a service staircase that is currently out of bounds to climb to the jump platform.
They will get out on to the platform using an existing hatch used to service the lights.
The whole experience, with a safety briefing and tower tour, will last around 90 minutes and is expected to cost in the region of 70.
WE NEED TO TRY NEW INITIATIVES, SAY CITY CHIEFS
It took more than a decade to plan and four years to build.
And in 2005 the Spinnaker Tower opened to a great fanfare.
Since then more than 1.8 million people have poured through the doors to take in the spectacular sight from the top.
And even more have marvelled at its elegance on the Portsmouth skyline.
But now tower bosses admit interest is starting to fade, and claim the city's landmark building needs a new attraction.
People living in Portsmouth may take friends and family up the tower when they visit, but for people travelling from outside the city one trip is enough.
The tower's marketing firm arranges endless promotions and events to try to draw people in.
They have held Star Wars activities, computer game tournaments and run competitions for local schools and children.
The downstairs cafe can even be hired for parties and events.
And this summer there will be a Pirates Alive event held throughout August to attract families during the summer holidays.
The tower generates around 500,000 profit for the city council each year and more for the operators.
But city chiefs say to keep the tower as a national landmark new initiatives must be given a go.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: 'It is not in the interests of the operators to do anything that is going to damage the structure of the tower. What they want to do is make it as profitable as possible and find ways to continue doing that.'
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