'Disappointment' as Sir Ben Ainslie's sailing America's Cup team moves out of purpose-built Portsmouth building

SIR Ben Ainslie has left people feeling ‘let down’ after moving his America’s Cup team out of Portsmouth, city leaders have said.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 12:09 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 2:25 pm

The city is now just one of several places on a ‘list of potential locations’ for Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben’s race ambitions.

It comes as the elite sailor’s purpose-built £12m building at The Camber in Old Portsmouth has been sublet to an award-winning maritime firm and financial advisers.

Leading councillors have said people in the city will be ‘let down’ and ‘disappointed’ knowing the British America's Cup entry is no longer in Portsmouth.

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Sir Ben Ainslie at the Portsmouth-based Land Rover BAR HQ

MP Penny Mordaunt said ‘we moved heaven and earth’ to give Sir Ben a Portsmouth home in 2014 and his team do ‘owe this city a great deal’ – but added the race team helped ‘put Portsmouth on the map’.

Sir Ben’s designers at his team Ineos Britannia – bankrolled by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe of the Ineos chemicals group – are now based at Brackley with Mercedes-AMG F1.

Sir Jim owns a third of the F1 team and is funding Sir Ben’s latest elite sailing challenge in the 37th America's Cup.

Sir Ben said: ‘When plans were agreed to build the team’s headquarters and visitors centre at Camber the key aims, alongside winning the America’s Cup, was to leave a legacy in the area by creating a hub for world class maritime industry and a platform to inspire the next generation.

The Ben Ainslie Racing Ltd building in Old Portsmouth. Picture: Ben Fishwick

‘Therefore, it has been great to see both the Applied Technology business we committed to set up, BAR Technologies, & our official charity the 1851 Trust remain based in the Camber building and exceed all expectations, with approximately 100 (plus) employees and suppliers working on-site.

‘The team has been proud to call Portsmouth our home during the last two America’s Cup campaigns and we are particularly grateful for the fantastic support we continue to receive from city residents.

‘We want to emphasise that whilst the design team is currently not based at Camber there has not been a decision yet where the team’s sailing operations will be based, and Portsmouth is still firmly on the list of potential locations.’

No venue has yet been set for the oldest continuing international sports competition.

The Solent was once mooted as a possible venue for some races, but the sailing press has named Auckland in New Zealand, Valencia in Spain, Cork in Ireland, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as among the bidders to host.

Ineos Britannia is designated the Challenger of Record, and as such can influence the venue with cup defender New Zealand.

But for Portsmouth, the uncertainty adds new weight Sir Ben’s comments in 2014, when he told councillors who granted planning permission that ‘frankly, we could base the team anywhere in the world’.

He had also said The Camber was ‘absolutely the right site’ and that he wanted to ‘give something back to this country’ and the maritime sector.

Sir Ben is now being forced to pay £110,000-a-year rent for the land at The Camber after pulling the sailing team from the base in June.

The building was given the go-ahead on Portsmouth City Council land with a government cash grant of £6.5m in capital funding plus £1m for revenue costs.

Under the terms of the deal with the city council - which had to relocate businesses to make way for Sir Ben - there was no rent to pay for 10 years.

The rent is now due as a clause in the contract brings to an end the rent-free period if the building is not being mainly used for the America’s Cup.

Portsmouth council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘They are now paying a rent, and quite a high rent, because they are no longer fulfilling the requirements of the deal that brought them to Portsmouth.

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‘I hope that when they make a decision about where they will be based, that will be with us.

'But I think it's disappointing because the deal to bring them to Portsmouth was as some level of compensation for the engineering jobs that we lost when the government decided to close shipbuilding in Portsmouth and relocate that work to Scotland.

'I'm sorry that those engineering jobs look as if they're now in Brackley, and I hope they will look to Portsmouth as their home port.'

He hopes the Solent will be chosen for the challenger races, paving the way for Sir Ben to remain in the city.

Tory group leader Councillor Simon Bosher said: ‘The people of Portsmouth are going to feel just a little bit let down by Team Ineos.

‘There was a great aspiration that it could be an ongoing event. I appreciate that they need to have a base wherever the America’s Cup is but when you look at the innovation and technical skills in the maritime area

‘The fact that it could have been longer term in the city would have been nice.

‘I can understand that residents would be feeling a little bit let down with that.’

MP Ms Mordaunt added: ‘We moved heaven and earth to facilitate BAR coming into Portsmouth.

‘Them doing so built an amazing new facility and helped put Portsmouth on the map as the maritime heart of the UK.

‘Over time needs change and the racing team will need to do everything it can to be at the top of their game.

‘BAR Technologies will remain but we can’t rest on past laurels - we need to continually be looking to grow opportunities and partnerships.

‘It is the same attitude and determination that brought BAR to us that will now develop new partnerships. I am sure BAR will retain deep connections to us.

‘We helped them establish their dream and they owe this city a great deal.’

The building has since been partly sublet to SubSea Craft, which is developing a military maritime vehicle, and Nexus IFA - a firm of financial advisers.

BAR Technologies and the charity 1851 Trust are still based at the site. There are 150 workers based at the building in all.

An Ineos Britannia spokesman said: ‘Whilst the Ineos Britannia design team is currently based out of Brackley there has not been a decision yet where the team’s sailing operations will be based with Portsmouth still firmly on the list of potential locations.

‘This decision will be dependent on the venue decision for the 37th America’s Cup.’

Building the base and hosting the America’s Cup World Series events brought in millions for Portsmouth, wider Hampshire and £113.5m in gross value added for Britain between July 2014 and August 2017, a report said.

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