A MULTI-MILLION-POUND tourist attraction commemorating the Titanic disaster is today exclusively revealed by the Daily Echo.

The west wing of the Civic Centre, home to the police station and old magistrates' courts, would be transformed into a £30m museum celebrating Southampton's history if the city council's vision is realised.

The Southampton Heritage Centre is expected to attract more than 150,000 visitors a year from around the world when it opens in April 2012.

Council leisure bosses want the heritage centre - described as one of the most ambitious development projects in a generation - to open in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic.



Tourists will be able to experience the disaster, which claimed more than 1,500 lives, from the day the ill-fated liner left Southampton's docks to life on board for passengers and crew and the subsequent trial.

Giant replica Potential attractions at the interactive museum include a simulator, climbing wall, survival guide, artefacts and a giant replica model of Titanic which visitors can board.

For the first time ever, visitors will also be able to climb to the top of the 156ft clock tower for a bird's eye view of Southampton.

However, dramatic plans to redevelop the exterior of the Civic Centre, first revealed by the Echo in January, have been scaled down.

Councillor John Hannides, Cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage, said the revised design would save about £10m.

A dramatic glass complex and water channel cascading from Watts Park were scrapped after English Heritage, which protects historic buildings, gave the green light to redevelop the old courts. Previously, the council had been told the three abandoned courts could not be altered.

It's likely just one court will remain preserved, while the other two will be demolished to make way for several permanent and temporary exhibitions focusing on the history of the docks, the city's dynamic inventors and the Second World War.

The tourist attraction would be constructed in two phases, with the first, the Titanic Exhibition, opening in April 2012 - just over three-and-a-half years away.

The council anticipates the build, which includes glass extensions to the roof of the Civic Centre, to take between 18 months and two years.

The announcement is a major boost for the city after plans for a £13m arts quarter, on the site of the former Tyrrell & Green store, stalled earlier this month when developer City Lofts pulled the plug.

The Conservative Cabinet will decide within the next month whether to proceed with a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to finance a £1.5m feasibility study into the heritage centre.

The application would be submitted in September and fund the final design, costing and business plan.

Cllr Hannides said the council would only proceed with the bid if it was confident it could raise the necessary cash to fund construction - estimated to be almost £30m.

Following the feasibility study, a second bid for a multi-million-pound HLF grant would be submitted in September 2009.

However, the council knows it could be expected to pay for the majority of the build and has drawn up a list of funding streams. These include selling off assets within the culture and heritage portfolio.

Proceeds from the sale of an acre plot of council land, the Lower High Street site, adjacent to St John's Infant and Nursery School, have already been earmarked.

Cllr Hannides said the Wool House, currently home to the Southampton Maritime Museum, could also be sold to developers.

"These are the proposals that are being actively considered, but no firm decision has been taken yet," he said last night.

"We would not want to embark on the bid if we felt there was a risk that the necessary capital funding would not be forthcoming next year."

Cherished assets

The senior Tory councillor said the public must be prepared to sacrifice cherished council assets, such as the Wool House - one of Southampton's oldest buildings - if it wanted a world-class heritage attraction.

"It is one of the most ambitious projects that the city has seen in a generation," he said.

"We are creating a jewel in Southampton's crown, but realistically this can only be done if we are prepared to rationalise our existing provision for culture and heritage - you cannot have it all."

The heritage centre will face stiff competition for funding, with the most recent round of HLF grants for projects of more than £5m being nearly five times over-subscribed.

Earlier this year, the HLF awarded £21m to Portsmouth's Mary Rose Museum - but the fund's budget has since been substantially slashed because of the London 2012 Olympics.

Titanic letter valued at £850,000. See dailyecho.co.uk/heritage