Tall ships bid still a possibility

HARTLEPOOL has not ruled out a bid to bring The Tall Ships Races back to town.

But Mayor Stuart Drummond admits there are a string of difficulties which would have to be overcome before it could become a host once more.

The financing of any future race would be an obstacle, he admits.

But he added: “Bidding for the race again is certainly something we would consider for the future.”

This year’s races take in Waterford in Ireland, Greenock in Scotland, Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Stavanger in Norway and Halmstad in Sweden, while ports have also been named for the next three years up to 2014.

It means the next available date would be 2015, and bids for that year must be submitted by this September to Sail Training International, the organisation which runs the massive event which attracts ships from all over the world.

The cost of staging the event in Hartlepool last time came to £3.9m.

The races attracted nearly one million people and 60 ships for a four-day extravaganza which also included live music, firework displays and a tall ships village filled with attractions.

But Hartlepool Borough Council was left to pick up an unbudgeted bill of £720,000 after the event suffered a huge drop in expected revenue from park and ride sites, while sales of official merchandise were also disappointing.

Parking was estimated to rake in £1.2m, but only made £200,000 and the sale of souvenirs like clothing, programmes, merchandise and corporate hospitality, which only made £15,000, were well below the estimate of £80,000.

Despite those shortfalls, Mayor Drummond said he hoped the town could become a host again.

He said: “It is certainly something we would want but realistically, 2015 might be a bit too early. We are still having the conversation.

“But it is definitely something we would want to do in the future.”

Problems for the future could include where the money would come from and where the ships would be berthed if Hartlepool’s dockland is developed in the next two or three years to bring in major industry.

“There is a lot of uncertainty regarding funding in the current financial situation,” said Mr Drummond. “That would be one of the main issues.

“It is realistically going to be difficult to commit to a bid at the moment,” he added.

The return of the races has proved a hot topic in the town since the ships left the Hartlepool Marina last summer.

Allan Henderson, director of Hartlepool Marina Ltd, said the Marina would support the event if it came back to town and spoke of the positive impact the races had on the area last time around.

He told the Mail: “I think the Tall Ships was a huge success in Hartlepool.

“It was great for the town and it raised the profile of Hartlepool Marina.

“But obviously it did prove quite costly.

“We have been talking about the ships coming back but maybe being funded by the private sector through sponsorships and businesses.

“Obviously the marina couldn’t carry the cost of such an event but we would certainly offer our support.”

But independent councillor Paul Thompson, of the Seaton ward, said the races were “an expensive luxury the town can’t afford.”

He added: “I’m not disputing that it was an enjoyable few days, but £2.14m of the taxpayers money was invested into it.

“I could be convinced differently if the economic impact the council promised was ever to come to fruition, but in the immediate future I don’t think that is possible.”

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