THIS is the first view of a multi-millionpound vision to transform Southampton’s old docks into a major tourist attraction.
Historians have teamed up with the port owner and Southampton City Council for an ambitious scheme that will open the docks to the public.
The proposed centrepiece is a new aircraft museum that will be built over a dry dock next to Ocean Terminal.
The attraction, set to replace the Solent Sky Museum, would have a fullsize replica of the stern of SS Olympic, Titanic’s sister ship, built inside the old dry dock.
It will also be home to a docks visitor centre, overlooking Southampton Water, featuring interactive displays explaining the port’s operations.
Question marks remain over how the waterfront development will be funded.
It is likely that most of the cash will have to come from massive grants from arts and development organisations.
A senior Southampton City Council councillor said some cash could also come from the sale of the publiclyowned Solent Sky Museum site.
Associated British Ports, which owns the docks, is close to signing a long-term lease with a charitable trust set up to bring the vision to reality.
The agreement, which would include a nominal rent, would see the port bosses hand over a section of the Trafalgar dry dock and berth 50.
Solent Sky curator Alan Jones, the driving force behind the new scheme – named Aeronautica at Southampton – said it would open within five years.
He described it as “one of the most important heritage attractions on the south coast”.
The centre, first revealed in the Daily Echo 15 months ago, will tell the story of Southampton’s rich maritime and aviation history.
It will provide a permanent home for historical vessels including the tug tender Calshot, HMS Medusa, SS Shieldhall and Challenge.
The Calshot Spit lightship, a landmark at Ocean Village for two decades, will be moved to Trafalgar Dry Dock on Thursday.
Once the 95-year-old red ship is restored to her former glory, she will go on display at the dock head and be reopened to the public.
Port director Doug Morrison said that for the first time the public would be allowed “controlled access”
into the heart of the docks.
Mr Morrison said that on non-cruise ship days, visitors would be invited to use the car park normally reserved for cruise passengers passing through Ocean Terminal.
ABP is also looking at reopening dock gate 5 at Town Quay, which is currently used for parking by Red Funnel passengers, to allow pedestrians to walk along the quay wall to berth 50.
“Sometimes we get some criticism about not allowing access, but here we are trying to allow controlled access that will allow people to see a working port,” he said.
“It will be fabulous and we support wholeheartedly the plans, but in the economic climate it remains to be seen where the funding will come from. We will not be making any capital investment.
“We are trying to agree a long-term lease with Aeronautica, which will be a peppercorn rent. Our commitment will be allowing use of the land.”
Councillor John Hannides said the waterfront attraction would “complement” the £15m Sea City Museum planned for the civic centre.
The city council’s Cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage said the council would consider looking into selling Solent Sky, estimated to be worth £2m to £3m, and gifting some of the proceeds to the project.
Later this year a funding bid – vital to the future of the attraction – will be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
If successful, trams could return to Southampton for the first time in half a century.
One idea is for a “heritage tramway” to operate along the quay wall between Town Quay and berth 50.
Civil engineering students at Southampton University, who recently completed a feasibility study, estimated the 700-metre route would cost about £800,000.
The students – Oli Swain, Kathy Lam, Kate Martin and Vicky Grove – concluded that the new tracks and power cables need to be installed, but one of the city’s old double- decker trams could be brought back into service.
A 105-year-old pump house, which once opened the dock’s enormous gates, could also be restored to its former glory, though is likely to remain out of working order.
Aircraft exhibits from Solent Sky, including the Supermarine S6, Sandringham Flying Boat and Spitfire, would all be rehoused in the museum.
A £50,000 feasibility study into the scheme will be launched later this summer.