Vision for the future of the historic seafront

PROPOSED A computer generated vision of what the waterfront around Gunwharf Quays could eventually look like.
PROPOSED A computer generated vision of what the waterfront around Gunwharf Quays could eventually look like.
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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It’s only a vision at the moment. But this image shows what an exciting future could be in store for Portsmouth’s historic waterfront.

Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust has published a ‘masterplan’ of how Gunwharf Quays, the naval base and the Historic Dockyard could be redeveloped and joined together.

If the bold design becomes a reality, shoppers and visitors would be able to cross Portsmouth Harbour via a walkway connecting the dockyard to Gunwharf Quays.

A source close to the project suggested dozens of cruise liners would be able to berth at the dockyard so that international tourists could experience our maritime heritage before crossing the walkway to shop.

The News is also able to exclusively reveal details of funding bids for two major projects aimed at promoting business and industry which could be set up inside the dockyard.

The first is a Regional Growth Fund for an International Boatbuilding Training College and the second is a University of Portsmouth centre to support small start-up companies.

Peter Goodship is chief executive of the property trust and chairman of the City Development Group, which is one arm of the Portsmouth City Council-backed Shaping the Future project.

He says: ‘We would like to think that if this goes ahead we could rival some of the greatest harbours in the world.

‘We are aiming to create a waterfront where there is a rich mixture of places to learn, work, eat, visit and live. Our vision is of a vibrant destination which builds on the success of sites like Gunwharf Quays.’

New Walkway

One of the most striking and controversial features of the plan is a new walkway connecting the dockyard to Gunwharf Quays.

The bridge would run from behind Portsmouth Harbour station to the south west area of the naval base – which the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust believes is one area of MoD land that will come up for sale.

Trust chief executive Peter Goodship says the walkway is still very much in the planning stages, but could be funded by a mixture of government infrastructure grants and investments by developers.

He says: ‘Gunwharf attracts around eight million visits each year, so if we are going to redevelop the waterfront properly there needs to be a proper connection between the two sites.’

Peter says the Queen’s Harbour Master, Commander Nigel Hare, has expressed support for the idea. But he admits there are many details which still need to be worked out. ‘It is totally dependent on a number of other things happening,’ he says.

‘There will have to be a mechanism to raise and lower the bridge for boats and to allow HMS Warrior to be removed when it needs to go to dry dock.’

Leader of the council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, suggests the plans might not be realistic in their current form.

He says: ‘Nobody’s talked to me about this, but from what I can see we need to have access in and out for boats to access the Hard. Another problem is that the navy hasn’t yet made a decision about what land it is releasing.’

Boatbuilding Academy

The home of the navy is in line for a school that will train youngsters to master the art of traditional boatbuilding and boat restoration.

Together with the regional growth fund bid for £1.3m, the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust has submitted a bid for more than £4.6m heritage funding for a Boatbuilding Academy in the dockyard’s 1930s Boathouse 4 building.

The academy, supported by the University of Southampton’s centre for maritime archaeology, shipbuilding village Buckler’s Hard and Highbury College, will offer a full-time 47-week traditional boatbuilding course for up to 80 students a year.

It will also provide a full-time engineering course for up to 20 students a year. These will both be run by the International Boatbuilding Training College.

Once set up, the academy and the University of Southampton would organise an exchange programme allowing students at each institution to experience a different learning environment and work on a greater variety of craft.

Buckler’s Hard, which has more than 100,000 visitors a year to its historic displays, has already offered to donate a substantial oak-framed workshop as the academy’s base.

There will be free public lectures in Boathouse 4 on aspects of traditional boatbuilding.

The new academy, which will be open to the public, will ensure there are sufficient skilled boat builders available to perform the ongoing conservation and maintenance of the Trust’s significant collection of small naval craft as well as every other heritage vessel in the UK.

Peter Goodship, the trust’s chief executive, said: ‘If there was ever to be a place that could host a centre of excellence for boatbuilding not just for the UK but also internationally, Portsmouth must be a top candidate.’

Europa House

Gunwharf Quays could expand after the purchase of the former Pall Europe headquarters.

As revealed on page 2, property giant Land Securities has announced it paid £3.25m for Europa House, though it has not yet released details of its plans for the 18-storey tower block.

The sale of the neighbouring Brunel House to an as-yet unnamed buyer is also close to completion, The News has learned.

‘Sell block’

A hub for entrepreneurial young businesses and companies needing a temporary boost and mentoring is being hailed as an opportunity to create thousands more jobs for the future.

The University of Portsmouth is excited about the possibility of a new ‘Sell Block’ centre in the dockyard’s Cell Block, which forms part of the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust’s £1.3m regional growth fund bid.

Up to 64 companies specialising in creative industries including architecture, fashion design and computer games development would make their home in the building and have access to expert training and guidance from the university as early as 2013.

Mark Baker, head of research and knowledge transfer services, says: ‘We are hoping to create a place for small companies to start up and with 1,000 graduates in creative industries I’m sure many of them will be among them.

‘We have so much creative talent in this city and foresee everything from computer games designers to architects being trained in the Sell Block.

‘They will be supported by larger established businesses who can provide training and mentoring programmes, in the hope of creating a flourishing creative sector in the city.’

He adds: ‘We will offer companies reduced rates to encourage them to give something back in the shape of apprenticeships or support. It is so exciting to have this developed at the heart of Portsmouth which has a huge footfall and will help raise aspiration.

‘The university will play to its strengths and will support new jobs and possibilities for the city.

‘Our history is incredibly important to us, but this is the future of this city and we have to invest in it.

‘We currently have some great companies in Portsmouth but we want to attract and encourage many more.’