Page last updated at 22:22 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 23:22 UK

Dorset in spotlight after sailing success

By Gavin Stamp
Business reporter, BBC News, Dorset

Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson of Great Britain celebrate victory in the Yngling class medal race
Team GB's success in Beijing has put sailing on the front pages again

The British sailing team's remarkable success in Beijing has left people licking their lips in anticipation of what is to come in four years time.

Repeating their feat of six medals - including four gold - will be a tough challenge in 2012.

But the athletes, coaches and supporters who followed them to China are not the only ones looking forward to renewing battle on home water.

Businesses in Dorset, where the 2012 sailing regatta will be held, are already sizing up possible commercial opportunities.

Sails service

Steve Moatt, who repairs sails for members of the GB team, is excited about what lies ahead.

Sailmaker Steve Moatt
Sailors have their favourite sails. It is quite important that if they do rip a sail, they get it back for the next race
Steve Moatt

"If it wasn't for the Olympics they wouldn't be coming here and I wouldn't be doing any work for them," he says.

"The work we are getting here is literally the tip of the iceberg."

A former sailing instructor, he and his colleague Jo work out of a small studio on Portland Bill about a quarter of a mile from the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, host to the 2012 event.

While Olympic teams will, of course, bring their own equipment and technical back-up to Dorset, he believes there will be scope for providing some sort of service to them.

"They could either use us or just use the premises over the period of the Olympics," he says, talking up his 'next-day' repair and re-sizing service.

"Sailors have their favourite sails. It is quite important that if they do rip a sail, they get it back for the next race."

Sunday's handover celebrations in Beijing and London will shift the focus onto preparations for 2012, including those in its most far-flung venue.

When improvements to the Sailing Academy are completed this autumn - designed to upgrade it from a top-class to a world-class sailing centre - it will become one of the first 2012 venues to be ready for action.

National benefits

The success of the project will also show whether the Games organisers can deliver on their stated goal of a staging a nationwide event with economic benefits for the whole country, not just London.

So far, the signs look reasonably good.

Equipping the Academy to stage the Games and trial events is boosting the local construction industry, with 50,000 tonnes of Portland stone being used to build a new slipway and wave barrier.

Flats being built in Castletown, near the Olympic venue
It is hoped the Olympics and other projects will help regenerate the area

Ringwood based Dean and Dyball is spearheading the project while Fareham firm Walcon Marine is installing new pontoons at the Academy.

"It is really nice to be involved with an Olympic venue and we will certainly be flagging it up," says James Walters, its managing director.

Having installed pontoons in 30 countries, he says the firm is "delighted" to be working on a project that will boost the local area.

But he does not believe the cachet of the Olympics will hold much sway when he is competing for future business.

"It has been competitively priced," he says of the 2012 contract.

"Hopefully we will do a good job for everybody but you are only as good as your last job. I don't think it is going to push us to the next level."

Marina catalyst

Portland's rich maritime history makes it a suitable choice for the Olympics but its recent fortunes have been far from golden.

When the Royal Navy left Portland Harbour in 1990, an estimated 3,000 jobs were lost and a further blow came in 1999 when the Ministry of Defence stopped testing naval helicopters there.

Although 40m has already been spent on regenerating the former naval base - close to the site of the Sailing Academy - local employers feel the image of the area can only be improved.

"Hopefully they are going to tidy up the area because it has got completely run down," says Denise Clark, who runs Clark's boat builders with her husband Tim in nearby Castletown.

"It looks like nobody can be bothered with it."

Work going on the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing
The Sailing Academy will be one of the first 2012 venues to be finished

But there is renewed optimism that the Games and the construction of a new 24m commercial marina adjacent to the Olympic venue will breathe new life into the area.

Developers Dean and Reddyhoff had agreed to build the 600 berth marina, due to open next Spring, before Dorset was awarded the regatta but it believes the hype about the event can only do the area good.

"We look at the Olympics as an enormous free marketing campaign," says its operations director James Beaver.

"It is going to bring tens of thousands of people to the area. The amount of money people are going to spend on food, drink, transport and accommodation is going to be extensive."

Staging the Games will come at a price since the organisers will take over the site for about 10 weeks before, during and after the event.

Boat owners vacating the premises will have to be compensated while retailers on the marina will have to cease trading temporarily.

But Dean and Reddyhoff is looking to the long term and the impetus that the marina will give to employment - an estimated 200 jobs could be created - and to the area's sense of identity.

"When we developed marinas in other areas which were not so affluent, we found these areas have been lifted," James Beaver says.

Legacy issue

Local development agencies estimate the Games could generate up to 1.7bn for the South West but much of this hinges on improving local infrastructure such as the planned Dorchester-Weymouth relief road.

Striking a balance between catering for the needs of competitors and spectators and creating a permanent legacy for the area is complex.

I am a great believer in the Olympics but you have to be so careful that certain decisions aren't made which step on the little man
Sean Webb, O' Three

Currently there are plans to house hundreds of athletes on cruise ships in Portland Harbour since there is only one four star hotel on Portland and there are fears that building others could create white elephants.

Gary Fooks, Dorset's 2012 legacy manager, says the region is focusing on 12 achievable goals including creating more permanent jobs, building a maritime centre of excellence and raising the area's tourist profile.

A new annual maritime festival - modelled on an idea from the 1972 Games - attracted 35,000 visitors last month and made about 1.4m.

"Progress, and some very significant progress, is being made in all aspects of our legacy drive," he says.

The medal haul in Beijing has rekindled excitement about Dorset's Olympic status but some are concerned about possible negative knock-on effects such as traffic chaos and rising costs.

View of the site for the new Portland marina
The marina will be the first to be built on the South Coast for 15 years

Some firms mention recent rent rises which, although not connected to 2012, give the impression they are being taken advantage of.

"I am a great believer in the Olympics but you have to be so careful that certain decisions aren't made which step on the little man and on that guy who has been paying his rent all those years," says Sean Webb, owner of O' Three, which makes water sports clothing and kit.

"It is happening already."

With customers such as recent gold medallist Paul Goodison, Sean Webb has plenty of Olympic spirit and is looking to grasp any opportunities.

But, at the same time, he is realistic in his expectations.

"We could do a little on the buzz created before and after the Olympics but we are not going to be booking any Caribbean holidays."




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