It was put on hold three years ago when the credit crunch bit down hard, but now new plans for Portsmouth’s Northern Quarter are being finalised ready to be submitted next year.
Developer Centros says it is working alongside Portsmouth City Council on the plans, which are for a slightly smaller development than previously, and they will be submitted in the second half of next year.
And the developer has moved to reassure shoppers that the development is on track to open in 2018.
Centros was due to start work in 2009, but a lengthy judicial review, problems with compulsory purchase orders and then the economic final nail in the coffin caused the project to be postponed.
The original scheme would have involved a four-star hotel, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer flagship stores, 80 new shops and 200 new homes.
It would also have demolished much of the northern end of Commercial Road – including everything beyond HMV – but these shops have been forced to keep trading with compulsory purchase orders hanging over the area.
But three years after the plan stalled, Centros is getting ready to submit revised plans for a smaller development, and the council is renegotiating those now-expired compulsory purchase orders.
‘The new scheme is now based on one anchor store,’ said Centros director John Marsh.
‘But there is flexibility within the plan for a second.’
Neither John Lewis nor Marks & Spencer would confirm they are still involved with negotiations about the Northern Quarter.
And Mr Marsh said until the plans were ready for public consultation, a lot of the detail had to remain under wraps.
But he added: ‘It’s positive news that we’re moving forward with this scheme, which is in line with Portsmouth City Council’s masterplan.
‘It will be good for Portsmouth.’
The council’s strategic director of regeneration, Kathy Wadsworth, said she is meeting with Centros representatives every fortnight to discuss the project, and its timescale.
She says Centros is on track to be on site by 2016, with the doors opening as promised in 2018.
The News understands the development will include between 50 and 60 shops, cafes and restaurants, a multiplex cinema, and up to 600,000sq ft of shops and leisure space.
She said: ‘As a city we have been underperforming with our retail, except for Gunwharf Quays.
‘It will be really good to get new shops into Portsmouth, and then to have restaurants there as well to have a lovely night time economy.
‘There are no plans now for a hotel in development, but we are being approached by hotel developers for elsewhere in the city.’
Barry Walker, city centre manager, said: ‘There’s a definite hunger for the development to happen now.
‘Portsmouth needs a development like this.
‘At the moment it has a shopping centre that serves Portsmouth, not a shopping centre that serves the sub-region, and what we need is for people to choose to come here rather than, say, going to Southampton, Brighton or Guildford or Basingstoke.’
Despite a sense that Commercial Road and Cascades Shopping Centre has been holding its breath waiting for the Northern Quarter development to begin, aside from those shops affected by CPOs, there are only four shops standing empty.
Mr Walker said that while the high street has been struggling throughout the recession, with massive chains such as Woolworths falling victim to the crunch, it is generally performing better.
He said: ‘We had a meeting of the retailers last week and they are all fairly upbeat.
‘They’re really looking forward to the Christmas markets opening on Thursday, and the start of late night shopping.
‘We’re finding that people are choosing to shop more locally to save money on transport, so we’re doing ok, while destination shopping centres like Southampton, say, are struggling.’
The secret to Gunwharf’s success is its mixture of shops and its attention to what customers want.
And its customers want more.
Opened just over 10 years ago it has constantly improved its profits, its footfall and its general popularity.
Gunwharf has long been the flagship development of its parent company Land Securities, and now the firm is looking to spread out into The Hard.
It has already bought Europa House, the former home of Pall Europe, and has permission to build a hotel on the site.
Budget chain Travelodge is set to turn the 18-storey building into a £10m, 170-bedroom hotel with some of the best views in the south visible from the top floor.
A spokesman for Gunwharf said: ‘Gunwharf has proven to be a catalyst for regeneration in the area and that is what we are hoping for here.
‘We want to take an existing building and do something new with it, rather than just knocking it down.’
Gunwharf’s occupancy rate stands at 98 per cent, and its footfall figures this year to date are up 3.2 per cent.
Its income has increased by 6.7 per cent, with a nine per cent increase in retail.
Sean Sweeny, centre manager at Gunwharf Quays, said: ‘All areas of the business continue to perform well despite the difficult economic climate.
‘The recent additions of Links of London, Diesel, Weird Fish and our continual drive to deliver a strong and quality tenant mix for our customers.’
In its heyday Port Solent attracted tens of thousands of people each week, strolling down the Boardwalk windowshopping, visiting the area’s only multiplex cinema, and eating out in one of its many restaurants.
The development of Gunwharf Quays affected it to the extent it became a ghost town, but now it seems to be seeing a return to its glory days by diversifying.
It now has 3.6m people visiting it a year – around 300,000 a month.
That’s two-and-a-half times more than three years ago, in 2009, when it only had half the units let to businesses and only 83,000 visitors a month.
And it has an occupancy of 95 per cent, with its two latest occupiers being Cotton Traders and telecoms specialist Victory Communications.
Samantha Golden, centre manager, was appointed in October 2008, at the height of the global credit crunch, with the long-term remit to turn the waterside location into a popular destination venue.
She said: ‘The transformation is incredible, with a 261 per cent rise in monthly footfall compared to three years ago and despite a difficult economy.
‘The place is positively thriving.’
The newest idea on how to rejuvenate Port Solent is to offer small boutique shops for people looking to get away from the chainstore offerings elsewhere.
A large waterfront building which has been empty for four years will be carved up into 11 smaller shops and space for a tea room.
Work will begin on the ‘Portside Locker’ project after Christmas, as the building will be used to house Christmas markets during the festive season.