PORTSMOUTH’S role in the D-Day landings is the centrepiece of a masterplan to bring the Tour de France to the region, The News can reveal.
Leaders want to prepare a bid to the organisers of the world’s greatest cycling race to bring the opening leg to Portsmouth in 2019 – the same year as the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings is significant for us as a city because a number of the naval vessels left from Portsmouth, and this was the biggest contingent that went over and sent troops to the landings.Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council
It is hoped Tour bosses will see the attraction of elite cyclists riding from the city to the South Downs before heading to the beaches of Normandy where troops – many of whom from this area – landed.
The News understands the concept of the sporting spectacle tying in with D-Day commemorations has ‘hit the spot’ with event bosses as they consider the best locations for stages of the event in the years ahead.
And Portsmouth has even more of a chance now London has turned down the chance to host the so-called Grand Depart in 2017.
Tory council leader Donna Jones hopes Portsmouth’s connection to the historic landings during the Second World War will give it the momentum it needs to be selected.
Cllr Jones, who is leading the proposal with Portsmouth’s twin city of Caen in France, said: ‘The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings is significant for us as a city because a number of the naval vessels left from Portsmouth, and this was the biggest contingent that went over and sent troops to the landings.
‘The landings were the key strategic move that won us the war.
‘The part Portsmouth played in that was absolutely significant.
‘So for us as a city, we were always planning to commemorate the 75th anniversary in a key way – not just for Portsmouth, but a commemoration for the whole of the UK.
‘That historical linkage is an exciting prospect for the Tour de France.’
Cllr Jones added: ‘A lot of preparatory investigation work has been carried out already between myself and the mayor of Caen and our officers.’
But the bid will cost up to £1.5m – and Cllr Jones hopes to secure cash from the government and other sponsors to ease the burden on the council’s coffers.
The Tory councillor wants to promote the national importance of Portsmouth hosting the Tour at a meeting with culture secretary John Whittingdale in the hope money can be secured.
Minister for Portsmouth Mark Francois will be urged to help.
Last year, Yorkshire hosted the Grand Depart and millions of pounds was generated for the local economy.
Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond has thrown her weight behind the bid.
She said: ‘I will see what I can do to bring money in. The council is very strapped for money and this is a lot to be spending.
‘This is about continuing to promote Portsmouth as the place for major sporting attractions, like with Ben Ainslie Racing.
‘In Yorkshire, it brought in a lot of money and it would be a great achievement to have it here.
‘It would be great news for Portsmouth. I would love to see the riders cycle up Portsdown Hill – even though it would be tiny compared to what they normally do.’
Culture bosses say the bid ties in perfectly with plans for the D-Day Museum in Southsea to become a national centre of excellence in time for the 75th commemorations.
As reported, chancellor George Osborne has been called on to cough up the remaining £600,000 needed to help ensure plans to modernise the museum and upgrade all of its exhibits become a reality.
Jane Mee, Transforming the D-Day Museum project director, said: ‘This would be good news for the city and very welcome in the year in which we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy Landings.
‘It very much fits with our plans for the museum and our aim to make it the National D-Day hub with an international reputation.
‘I’m supportive of anything which highlights D-Day and encourages visitors to our museum – an event like this would be welcome.’
Portsmouth North MP and armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt said: ‘This is timely, given London has said it’s not worth their investment, which has opened the way for other cities like Portsmouth. And clearly with the historical connection with northern France, it helps us in terms of winning a bid.
‘We have that status and Portsmouth is not just like any other city – it’s a city with deep connections. It would be a fantastic attraction for tourists.
‘We know from the experience of Yorkshire that they got a massive return on their investment which they put in.
‘The businesses got a lot of extra footfall and exposure and if that’s the case for us, then that would be great.’
If successful, the 2019 Portsmouth event would follow on from other major events such as the America’s Cup World Series, which was held this summer and is coming back again in July next year.
Cycling groups have already said they would be ‘over the moon’ should Portsmouth be successful.