Time for port to boost city as a tourist destination

It was in the early 1970s that Portsmouth City Council had a vision to forge new links with the European mainland.

Thursday, 30th March 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:07 pm

It came in the frenzied build-up to premier Edward Heath’s decision to take us into the European Economic Community, as it was then known, in 1973.

And by the time Harold Wilson went to the country with his Yes/No referendum in 1975 asking the country if we should stay in or get out, Portsmouth’s Continental Ferry Port was just a year away from opening.

That referendum resulted in a heavy win for staying in and we here in Portsmouth were suddenly feeling very European.

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The council plan to turn land it owned into a cross-Channel ferry port second only to Dover was visionary.

There were many who considered it lunacy, a white elephant in waiting which would saddle the city with a huge debt which would take generations to pay off.

How wrong they were. For that port, still a rarity in that it remains owned by the council and therefore the people, has done more to bolster the authority’s financial reserves, and keep council tax increases to a minimum, than any other asset.

And asset it is, for Portsmouth International Port, as it is now known, has played a key role in the city’s 21st century change of image from one dominated by the Royal Navy to a thrusting, vibrant university city and tourist destination.

How ironic then that on the day the UK officially started divorce proceedings from most of Europe, the port should reveal that cruise ship calls here will return in 2018, sealing the city’s links with many EU destinations.

What the port must do now is build on those European links by aligning itself with its owner, the council, to develop not just as a port but as a destination not only for home-grown visitors, but also those from continental Europe curious to see what a former EU member looks like.