Cutty Sark restoration tragedy: yet another delay

In Sunday’s newspaper, I wrote about the heartbreaking disaster that is the restoration of the Cutty Sark. As you can read, the chief engineer, Professor Peter Mason, has resigned – saying that the restoration will “damage the fabric of the ship.”

The problem is the Cutty Sark Trust’s absurd wish to turn this heritage artefact into an “iconic” and contemporary installation – held eleven feet off the ground by new legs, floating on a bed of glass and with a lucrative function space (the real point of the exercise, of course) underneath. Everyone I talked to in the world of classic ship restoration agrees with Mason – this scheme is at best naff  (one man called it like a “fairground attraction”), at worst a serious risk to the ship. I could not find a single person who thinks that the plan is anything other than a tragic mistake.

The scheme is already running years late and massively overbudget; the trust has made a series of misleading public statements about progress; the main backers, the Heritage Lottery Fund, cut off payments for most of last year, so worried were they about the trust’s mismanagement. Last week, however, it was trumpeted that the Cutty Sark had been “rescued” with a further £11million of taxpayers’ money which would see it open “in time for the Olympics.”

That date represented a further delay of up to 18 months, by the way. But in the just six days since then, we have learned that the opening appears to be shifting even further to the right. This week’s issue of Greenwich Time, the propaganda organ of Greenwich Council, one of the gap funders, now states merely that the ship “could” be restored in time for the 2012 Games.

As I say in my column for the hyperlocal website, the council and the others paying the £11 million have not “rescued” the Cutty Sark. They have just propped up a fundamentally flawed scheme and risked throwing good money after bad. I love the Cutty Sark, and dearly want to see it restored. But if they want it open for the Olympics, the funders should make their bailout conditional on a clearout of the Cutty Sark Trust, and the scrapping of the risible “iconic” scheme in favour of a straightforward restoration.

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