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24 September 2014

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How We Built Britain

You are in: Hampshire > How We Built Britain > Making its mark

The Spinnaker Tower

The Spinnaker Tower

Making its mark

What makes a landmark? Both Southampton and Portsmouth have recently had projects that aim to become new landmarks for their city, and, although they couldn't be more different, both projects shared one thing - a mixed response by the public.

Like many urban areas nationwide, Hampshire's two coastal cities have seen extensive redevelopment.

Southampton has seen the arrival of the huge West Quay shopping complex; while Portsmouth has been boosted by the success of Gunwharf Quays and the Spinnaker Tower - now a prominent landmark for miles around.

These developments are part of wider aim to create projects that put the area on the map, with spectacular landmark attractions that bring both business and visitors - and keeps them coming back.

But finding the right projects for the right area has proved trickier.

The Spinnaker Tower certainly wasn't without its critics - not least for being five years late, costing £36m and leaving the taxpayer footing a bill of more than £11m.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the Spinnaker Tower, there seems to have been a clamour for eye-catching landmarks elsewhere in the region.

Meeting the needs of the surroundings, and seeking approval from locals, shows that making a new landmark is not that easy.

Solent Eye

In the shadow of the success of Portsmouth's Gunwharf Quays sits the neglected Southsea sea front.

Its Clarence Pier promenade has missed out on visitors since the arrival of the Spinnaker Tower, only a few minutes' walk along the shoreline.

Solent Eye - architect drawing

The Solent Eye will have 40 'gondolas'

So the owner of the site in Southsea has looked to London for inspiration.

It wants to take the idea of the London Eye and transplant it to the south coast.

Portsmouth City Council is currently deciding whether to give planning permission to the giant big wheel, christened the Solent Eye.

The company behind it, Billy Manning Ltd believe that this is the answer to reviving the fortunes of Southsea.

Although not quite as big as the London Eye's 440 feet, at 180 feet high, the £2 million Solent Eye would still be a significant local landmark, dominating the low-rise skyline.

Solent Eye - architect drawing

The Solent Eye will revitalise Southsea

Easily accessible

So what can Southsea learn from the success of the London Eye? Since it opened as The Millennium Wheel in 2000, it's attracted 25 million visitors and has become an internationally recognisable symbol of London.

London Eye Communications Manager Surette Simon says: "To make any attraction work, and especially that of an observation wheel or tower, you need three things.

"They are: a central location, so it's easily accessible; sustainable tourism infrastructure; and most of all, great views.

"And it was these three things that made the London Eye so successful."

Mixed response

Support for the project across the city has largely been positive, but those Southsea residents who currently enjoy unrivalled views across the Solent – a view that the construction of the Solent Eye is very likely to obstruct – have more mixed views, ranging from support to complete rejection: "It will be an eyesore" said one.


Hampshire's other large coastal city, Southampton, has similarly been looking for a project to boost visitor numbers and to place it more firmly on the map.

Some locals believe that Southampton, unlike Portsmouth and its Gunwharf Quays, has failed to truly capitalise on its water-side location for the benefit of its residents.

In 2006, suggestions for a museum and viewing tower in the shape of a Spitfire wing, in homage to the war-time aircraft built in the city, met with funding difficulties.

More recently, there have been proposals for a set of lasers to poke into the night sky from the Civic Centre, in a modern-day adaptation of a lighthouse, to act as a beacon for business and reflect the city's modern, creative image.

Civic Centre clocktower, Southampton

The lasers will beam from the tower

Each of the four lasers would project from one face of the Civic Centre clock tower, creating a night time landmark that's visible from across the region.

The project would cost £250,000 and the money has been earmarked from the South East England Development Agency, specifically for an arts project.

The idea is similar to a laser beam situated in Greenwich, used there to signify the location of the Greenwich meridian time line.

But after considerable local objections from the public, and criticism in the local press, the project was finally abandoned in June 2007.

Building for the future?

Are new landmarks a 'must' for any city in the 21st Century? Are these proposals a positive indication of a city in good health? Or are they white elephants? 

Do they really attract business and tourists to a city, or could the money be better spent on other public services like improving local schools or cleaning up the urban environment?

What would you like to see as a landmark for the south coast? What do you think?

last updated: 02/07/07

Have Your Say

What's your view on local landmarks? Does Southampton need a Laser Gateway? Will the Solent Eye be good for Southsea? Let us know your views.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

I think, judging by these posts, that the money would be better spent on improving residents' grammar and spelling...

I believe Portsmouth has overtaken Southampton as far as attracting people to the city. The maritime history here is sadly lacking and I believe a good maritime museum is long overdue as is the use of our Southampton coastline. The city centre could also be more "user friendly".

Good Luck to the Manning family. After years of decline and neglect by Portsmouth City Council (and the "Town" Council has done NOTHING to develop the area either), they Manning family appear to be the only ones willing to invest in Southsea and create attractions. Their other new initiative - the Land Train - appears to be doing well. I live RIGHT OPPOSITE the proposed site for the Solent Eye and think it would be a fantastic attraction for Southsea - would not spoil the views I have across the Solent - would definitely enhance it!

How many landmarks can one city have? Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower has "eventually" started to work and attract tourists, but by building the highly "original" solent eye they would just be digging themselves into a deeper hole!

Nick Lay
The west end of Southsea has turned into something of a theme park in the past few years with it's close proximity to Gunwharf, Portsmouth city centre and the university. It would be more suitable to build the Solent Eye there than perhaps anywhere else along the seafront as it would concentrate the visitors in one area - in the far-off future the attractions could still expand eastwards if necessary, but it appears that the neglect around South Parade is a sign that Southsea is no longer a tourist resort in its own right. Southsea is now only really regarded as the seafront district in the city of Portsmouth.

Marc Sanders
I feel southampton councillors have let the city down. Still no ice rink!?! That's a long promise as It is now 20 years since the old one was pulled down. I believe there are plans afoot to build one on the site of the current ASDA store in the centre - 20 years too late I say! We also have a huge number of passenger cruise ships in and out of Southampton. The route in is appauling - disgusting and unsightly - I guess people can't wait to get on the liners and out to sea asap!!! Come on Southampton, start your move into the future - lets make Southampton a great City again - please!!!!

Southsea as a resort has steadily gone down hill for decades. SouthParade Pier never recovered from when it caught alight during the filming of "Tommy" and is a pale shadow of its former self. The clubs which used to be opposite the pier have now closed and the clubbing scene moved to the city centre. The Pyramids is in a desperate state and is due for demolition. Southsea is losing its identity as a resort. I like the idea of the Eye but is Clarence Pier the right location? The view will be similar to the Tower why not move it eastwards and site it on the Common by Castle Field? which would draw the visitors to another area apart from the fun fair? Youu would then get a view of the east side of the island and Canoe Lake etc.

T. Clarke
Please no lighting, laser or other, that stops us seeing the night sky. being able to see the stars,etc. should be one of the attractions of our area, but a background with which to compete.

Would be nice if Southampton sorted out all the scum housing rather than creating some pretty flashing lights. Theres plenty of those in the nightclubs.

Annette Robertson
Rather than wasting money putting in a london eye 'rip off' why not use that money to redevelop the parts of southsea that need it? Make it look more modern and attractive, rather than sticking a modern attraction in crumbling surroundings?

i think us in southampton are losing strength to other towns because of the lack of new tourist attractions.

i live in southampton and i think portsmouth is becomeing a much more better place to go as there is so much more like gunwalf quays the spinnaker tower, i like the lasers would be a good thing for the city of southampton and i think they should get the funds together for the spitfire wing as i think it will be one of the wow factures the city is looking for and possabley get a thame park in the city.

Malcolm Parker
The Spinnaker Tower is unique and distinctive, people might not know precisely where it is, but like the Angel of the North, once seen it is never forgotten. The Laser Gateway and Solent Eye are both rather tame and derivative in comparison and whatever their merits, are unlikely to become anything other than short-lived symbols of a lack of imagination. Both cities would do better to hang onto the money until they come up with something more inspired.

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