Broken lift stole headlines on day of tower unveiling

The News front page from Tuesday October 18 2005
The News front page from Tuesday October 18 2005
Edinburgh Road, Landport, Portsmouth, in the 1920s, maybe 1930s.' Picture: Robert James Collection

NOSTALGIA: Would you dare do this in this Portsmouth street today?

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Somehow you just knew it would happen.

What became known as the Spinnaker Tower had been dogged by controversy, delay and political back-biting for 10 years.

But finally, on this autumn day in 2005 (more than five years late) the 550ft-high gleaming spire of Gunwharf Quays was about to open to the public.

Despite all the furore surrounding what had once been known as the Millennium Tower, Portsmouth was at last looking forward to unveiling its new icon.

Indeed, the tower itself did open and its internal lift has worked perfectly well for the past six years.

But outside the world’s media were gathered as the much-vaunted exterior lift began its journey to the top.

At least that’s where it should have ended, but just 60ft above the deck of Gunwharf, it shuddered to a halt.

To make matters worse, and to the delight of the watching journalists, the three people on board were all connected to the project.

They were city council project manager David Greenhalgh, a representative of tower builders Mowlem and, in an ironic twist, engineer Luca Frigerio from Maspero, the Italian company which built the troubled lift.

And there they stayed for the next two hours while cameramen feasted on their plight.

And to this day the lift has not carried one passenger. Last week the city council scrapped the project and abandoned the lift.

After emerging, a tight-lipped Mr Greenhalgh told The News: ‘We are not going to put this lift back into service until we are absolutely certain we have tested the reliability to make sure we can give the public confidence that it will be working when they use it.

‘Last night we ran it continuously from 6pm to 6am. We then cleaned it up before the public arrived. It was after we cleaned it that this problem occurred.

‘We all wish it had not happened. At least it was the three guys involved in the commissioning of the lift that were stuck and not the visitors.’

And it all came three days before Portsmouth was packed with tens of thousands of visitors for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.