Unique multi-million pound Southampton aquarium development to tell city's maritime story
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Unique multi-million pound Southampton aquarium development to tell city's maritime story

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Plans are in the works to develop a multi-million pound aquarium project in Southampton, combining undersea creatures with a showcase of the region’s strengths and its links to the high seas.

Combining an aquarium setting with a maritime center exploring Southampton’s position at the centre of a global story, the development promotes itself as championing “Storylines of Science, Technology and Life: Voyages of Discovery.” The site will also include a conference center.

Dubbed ‘Southampton Living Waters’, the project is the brainchild of Dr Clive Bennett – retired head of zoology and visiting fellow of the University of Southampton – who was inspired following a trip to California in 2014.

“When I retired I took a trip to Los Angeles to visit a friend who in his retirement moved on to become chief fundraiser for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. What he showed me was inspiring,” said Bennett, speaking to Attractions Management.

“I came back to Southampton at a time when there was a public consultation for the Royal Pier site. When I got back I met with city council leader Simon Letts to discuss the aquarium proposal, who told me to form a business plan and then come back and meet with them.”

The project gained traction when offered support by the National Oceanography Center. A financier was later sourced through the Maritime Archeology Trust which brought on support of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce. From there a steering group was formed, which was also made up of representatives from Southampton City Council, the SeaCity Museum, the University of Southampton, The Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust, the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, The New Forest National Parks Authority and SeeSouthampton Tour Group.

“Our steering group met at a brainstorming session and it was well understood that you can’t just run an aquarium these days – they don’t stand alone,” said Bennett. “That’s why we want to create an integrated, explanatory, regionally-related attraction – something with some special stories in it. We got the idea of ‘Voyages of Discovery’ to tell the story of Southampton. You would have a major ‘wow factor’ aquarium built into something highly educational and inspirational.”

Working on a pro-bono status, the project has received offers from several aquarium specialists, including French designers Ocean Projects and former National Marine Aquarium managing director, David Gibson.

“We’re setting up an arrangement for phase one,” said Bennett. “Right now we’re seeking initial funding for a feasibility study. We need to identify key waterfront sites to do that on. We’re looking to land owners to see what are the sites we can realistically produce a plan for.”

According to Bennett, the Solent Council had been seeking projects beneficial to the entire region of Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, which was why the steering group decided to publicly unveil its plans.

“The timing has been good for us in that respect,” he said. “The project will be able to provide a focus for an attraction and act as a magnet for businesses.

“It adds something to the visitor offering of Southampton. All it has right now is the SeaCity Museum in terms of major attractions. We are an attractive retail city and a lot of people come and go for the Premiership football team. Those things go in our favour. What we need to do in an environment where there’s more and more internet shopping is to support the city by creating the kind of attraction that will make people want to visit and to boost the local economy.”

For more information on the Southampton Living Waters project, click here.

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Plans are in the works to develop a multi-million pound aquarium project in Southampton, combining undersea creatures with a showcase of the region’s strengths and its links to the high seas.
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