Portsmouth North MP’s demands to council over future of North End - in full

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt

An artist's impression of how Portsmouth Retail Park could look.

Nine high street names including Greggs, Home Bargains and Subway lined up for new £16.2m Portsmouth Retail Park

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PENNY Mordaunt has revealed her package of demands to Portsmouth City Council over the future of North End.

The Portsmouth North MP has produced a lengthy deputation that will go before the full council on Tuesday.

Councillors will pour over her findings before deciding what action to take.

It comes as traders fear the city shopping district could be dead in five years time unless urgent action is taken to address parking, bring back visitors, relax business rates and improve the look of the area.

Here is Ms Mordaunt’s deputation in full:

Dear council,

I write this deputation on behalf of the traders of North End, many of whom have expressed their concerns to me regarding what they perceive to be the terminal decline of North End High Street.

I would ask that my deputation is read out in full at the Council Meeting to be held on Tuesday, 13th October 2015 for consideration by all Councillors, with regard to how they can best help and assist the traders of North End.

Previous discussions and surveys undertaken by my office reveal that views are very mixed amongst traders; however, it is clear from speaking with them that a number of common concerns or themes are prevalent. Whilst I acknowledge that the Local Authority have undertaken some steps to address these concerns, I feel more could be done in order to assist traders, and regenerate North End by fully engaging with the traders to address their concerns.

Report into secondary shopping areas

This report was undertaken by the council some time ago- I contributed to it and also arranged for the DCLG lead officers to visit Portsmouth and the North End to give their advice. I understand that this report is yet to be published. I would ask that it is at the earliest occasion so everyone can work to implement its recommendations.

In the meantime there are clearly some issues which need to be grasped now.

Securing additional funds

I would also ask, if not already part of the above report, that the council scope out where they could secure additional funds for regenerating North End. There will be resource available from the Great British High Street portal and the Lottery Power to change programme has High streets at the forefront of its new £150 million fund- I have met with them and they are very keen to support the traders. There needs to be a methodical scan of further funds that could be levered in immediately. I have spoken with the LEP to flag that high street regeneration and the shopping, retail, and leisure are key investment areas for the City and should be included in future growth deal bids. If PCC agree it would be helpful for them to add their weight to that.

I have also supplied the council with the national chains still in North End who said they would be willing to give resource. To my knowledge none of these leads have been followed up, and I would ask some officer time is given over to that.

Parking

The majority of traders feel that the changes made by the previous administration, which resulted in the widening of the pavement within North End, and as a consequence the removal of short stay parking has had a negative impact upon the trade of their businesses. In a recent meeting some owners suggested that for the month of July, they had recorded as much as a twenty per cent decrease in trade, when compared to the same period last year. Traders cited a lack of footfall, brought about by the changes in parking as the loss of several key businesses.

While I am aware that the Local Authority will be taking some steps to address the concerns of traders regarding parking, by introducing free parking after 3pm on weekdays, it does not do nearly enough to alleviate the current predicament of traders, and I am asking for a more pragmatic approach. Some businesses have suggested that they introduce and manage their own permit system to allow customers to drop off and pick up goods, unfortunately this was rejected. Consequently, traders feel that the Local Authority is not supportive of businesses within High Street.

I acknowledge that the current administration has been dealt a very difficult hand, due to the failure of the previous administration to undertake an impact study prior to the pavement widening changes implemented; however, I am asking that the Local Authority consult with traders to pursue these ideas. Unless this issue is addressed North End will continue to struggle.

There is considerable evidence collected under the Great British High Street portal that such changes to parking schemes can be cost neutral, or in fact increase revenue to the council. This is the most urgent issue in my view.

Empty and dilapidated premises

Analysis undertaken by my office confirms that the perceived decline of North End can be directly linked to the recent loss of a number of well known chains and businesses within the High Street, creating a perception that North End is no longer a place to visit or shop, with no real central point of attraction. Several traders I have spoken with recently felt this could be directly linked to a lack of facilities or draw for children and young people to the area, and by implication their parents, leading to a decline in footfall, and consequently a decline in trade.

Traders naturally feel that if a number of well known chains cannot profit in the High Street, then they indeed have little hope of continuing to trade.

Several long standing businesses have informed my office that they intend to close within the next six months, citing a lack of perceived support from the Local Authority to grow and develop the High Street, and an unwillingness to listen to and address their concerns regarding the parking situation. If this situation continues, new businesses are unlikely to be drawn to North End.

North End also suffers from some empty buildings which are in a very poor state. The work needed doing to certain premises in the high street was cited as one reason why some tenants have left. There are also some very unsightly empty premises which does not help the feel of the area.

From discussions I have had with the LEP is may be possible for assisted area status to apply to these areas, meaning that the property owners could be able to accesses considerable tax breaks should they wish to renovate these properties. I would like to ask the council pursue this with the LEP and make any such opportunities aware to the property owners and any other incentives that could persuade them to renovate.

Anchor Store and amenities

This situation has been compounded by the recent announcement of the Co-op to vacate one of the largest buildings within North End, which has not only greatly concerned traders; many of whom feel that the loss of such a central focal point would not only cause a further decline in trade, but will also result in deterring prospective businesses from considering the High Street as a viable location for their business.

Adjacent to this store is a private car park that dominates a section of the rear of London Road, which despite its size, and a reduction in parking on London Road, is never fully used, and is somewhat of a paradox, given the current parking situation in North End. The Local Authority would do well to consider options available to them which might make use of such amenities.

In addition, Traders feel that the proliferation of certain types of business within the High Street is only serving to add to a perception that North End is a High Street in decline. When considered in conjunction with trader concerns regarding an increase in shoplifting, anti social behaviour, and begging, it is not difficult to understand why traders, and indeed local residents, are becoming increasingly negative regarding their predicament and the area.

Street wardens

I have made a number of suggestions previously to the Local Authority which I feel could not only greatly assist the High Street, but would also result in a number of improvements which would immediately address these concerns, such as a warden scheme, similar to the one currently in use in Brighton; however, it would seem these suggestions have not been considered seriously, and I would urge the Local Authority to do so. I would ask that such as scheme is properly scoped for North End so any costs can be understood and the council contact Brighton to see how they set this up. This is a scheme which the power to change fund may consider funding.

Business Rates

Traders feel that a reduction in business rates would not only immediately improve their own situation, but could also act as a draw for other new businesses and traders, which could do much to address the balance of store types within North End.

The Local Authority could consider a trial reduction in business rates; to not only encourage growth within the High Street, but also generate interest in North End as a viable location for new businesses, with a view to creating real growth and diversity within the High Street. The long term benefits of such an approach would far outweigh any short term monetary loss to the Local Authority. Given the recent announcement by the Chancellor to on business rate retention I would have thought this would be considered a ‘green light’ by Portsmouth City Council to be more proactive and innovative when considering the issues I have raised within my deputation.

In the interim Government would pick up the bill for 50% of the costs of reducing rates. This reduction would not have to be on a permanent basis, but it would be a massive help whilst the other issues, parking in particular, were being addressed.

I have asked a number of organisations to undertake their own cost-benefit analysis of PCC reducing rates in case the Council still remain unconvinced and further evidence that this is a good idea is needed.

Retail academy

Council officers have previously mooted the idea of a retail academy: small businesses, start up and stall traders moving into empty premises with much reduced overheads. The original idea saw it being manged by staff learning a retail qualification, but the main benefit was to introduce a broader and more interesting range of shops to the area at low investment costs. Could this idea be revisited?

Events- support and licencing

My office is supporting the traders to run a series of events over the next few months. The “Minions invading North End”, staged during half term, is to see whether events aimed at children would help to increase foot fall. ‘Christmas past’ will help celebrate North Ends heritage and as well as stimulating footfall will hopefully stimulate interest and discussion about its future too, and we are also looking to do a “healthy community day” in the new year to along the lines of the one we did in Cosham which helped kick start its turn around.

These events are not costing the council anything, but it would be much appreciated if the licencing costs currently being charged by the council could be waived or reduced.

DCLG identified the councils licensing regime as a barrier to local growth- no one runs events, or puts out tables and chair or displays which would make the area more attractive, because of the costs, so the council would not be losing funds by waiving or reducing such fees. Instead it would enable the traders to do more to create interest and a nicer feel to the area. That was one of the High Streets teams key recommendations to PCC.

Any help the council could give to support these events would be very much appreciated.

Support for traders

There have been several failed attempts to get a traders associations running. If there were such a body it could do so much and provide much needed information to PCC as initiatives are tried. I could ask that a concerted effort is made by PCC to establish one. I understand that a further £10,000 could be obtained from DCLG to facilitate this. PCC would need to apply for this as it, and only it, could be the monitoring body.

In summary:

1. Publish the High Street report

2. Scan and secure additional funding

3. Urgently address the parking and drop off/ collect problems particular businesses are facing.

4. Tackle run down and empty premises, including using assisted area status if applicable.

5. Anchor store and attractions

6. Establish a street warden scheme

7. Temporary reduction of Business rates

8. Support the three planned events and reduce licencing costs to traders

9. Revisit the retail academy concept

10. Establish a traders association with DCLG and ATCM support

These 10 simple steps would help mitigate the current situation, and help build a solid future for the area. The Council has been considering these issues for some time, and I have made a considerable number of representations on these same points. Unless PCC acts now the situation will deteriorate further still and so will any good will the very resilient traders have left. We owe it to them, and the surrounding residents, to protect and enhance the vital lifeline the high Street is- a place to access services, a social life as well as shop.

There is still good will to turn things around- the “Christmas past” event in particular has generated considerable interest. The local community have a fond nostalgia for the North End of previous years, and this sense of community spirit could be used in a positive way in order to promote and regenerate North End High Street. But it required dedicated effort on all our parts.

I hope the council will act to implement these 10 immediate steps, and then develop a long-term plan for this area of our city.

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