HMS Ark Royal: Museum plan for Leeds's own ship

HMS Ark Royal could be transformed into a world-beating museum and tourist attraction, it has emerged.

Senior aides to London Mayor Boris Johnson have been in talks with the Royal Navy about an ambitious plan to moor the flagship aircraft carrier at the Royal Docks in east London.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that it is considering allowing the 25-year-old vessel – which has a long association with Leeds – to be turned into a museum as an alternative to selling it to another country or scrapping it.

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If the plan gets the go ahead, the Ark would be the only aircraft carrier in Europe open to the public and one of only eight such tourist attractions around the world.

USS intrepid, an American carrier that is now a museum on the Hudson River in New York, has almost one million visitors a year.

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Anthony Browne, Boris Johnson's economic adviser, said the Ark Royal could provide a regeneration boost to London's deprived East End.

He said: "In other parts of the world, decommissioned aircraft carriers have been turned into successful visitor attractions.

"We will help those who would like to do the same with the Ark Royal and bring it to London, as it could help with the economic regeneration.

"However, it is very early days and there are many very real hurdles to overcome."

The proposal has won the enthusiastic backing of the former head of the Army, Gen Sir Mike Jackson.

Sir Mike, Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006, said: "The arguments are certainly strong. The Thames could hold the Ark Royal if the arrangements could be made.

"It would be fantastic to see the Ark Royal in London. People will be very interested to see how it works for themselves."

An MoD spokesman said: "There are three options: either sold for scrap, or it becomes a museum or sold to another navy."

He cautioned that the museum option currently appears to be the "least likely" due to the large costs involved and because London already has the warship HMS Belfast docked on the Thames.

The essential maintenance costs for Ark Royal is estimated to be at least 1 million a year. However, the economic boost to east London from housing the aircraft carrier and the tourist numbers it would attract could outweigh the running costs.

Martine Ainsworth-Wells, marketing and communications director of tourism body Visit London, said: "Although discussions about the Ark Royal are at the very early stages, Visit London is in principle very supportive of any regeneration for the Docklands and east London area."

Captain Paul Quinn, general secretary of the Royal Naval Association, said: "It is a very exciting prospect. We would welcome the Mayor of London's plans to give the Ark Royal a permanent home and for any efforts to show the vital role of the Navy."

Ark Royal has returned to her Portsmouth base for the final time following the confirmation in the defence review in October that she is to be decommissioned along with her fleet of Harrier jets.

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