Losing Lusty is a shame but we must be realistic

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So, that’s it then. HMS Illustrious is unlikely to live out her retirement in Portsmouth, her home port.

As we report today, the Ministry of Defence is ploughing ahead with its plans to preserve the former Royal Navy aircraft carrier somewhere in the UK.

But the only known bid for her preservation in Portsmouth collapsed – and now the deadline has passed.

A group of businesses had put together a glittering vision of how it could work, including turning the old grey lady into a floating conference centre with a museum, cafe and hotel all included.

There were concerns from the start about issues of space and funding for the project, which was expected to cost millions of pounds to be a success.

And while it would have been a nice idea to have HMS Illustrious preserved here in her home port, we have to be realistic.

In the end, these concerns could not be overcome, and the consortium behind the plan withdrew its bid.

There is no doubt that having HMS Illustrious berthed in Portsmouth as a museum ship would have strengthened the heritage attractions already on offer here.

But the concerns over space are perfectly valid – as space at the dockyard is at a premium with two new mammoth carriers soon to arrive.

Furthermore, it was unclear just how much money Illustrious could bring in as a tourist attraction, and whether it would outweigh the cost of her preservation.

As we saw recently with the demise of HMS Plymouth, a museum ship which fell to ruin, these things do not always work out.

Nevertheless it is heartening to see the Ministry of Defence is still committed to preserving Illustrious in some form.

And we welcome the leader of Portsmouth City Council’s assurance that she will work with the successful bidder with a view to bringing Illustrious to Portsmouth in the future.

It is right to preserve our naval heritage for future generations. But we must be sensible about it, especially at a time when our belts are tightened.

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