Architectural gems could spark second renaissance

COMMENT: Carrier sends out a strong message to the world

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It’s almost 20 years ago that the seeds of a great idea were sown in Portsmouth and Gosport. They would eventually germinate to herald the biggest transformation of the area since the Second World War.

The far-reaching Renaissance of Portsmouth Harbour scheme to mark the millennium breathed long-awaited new life into this area’s biggest natural asset – the lively stretch of water separating the two communities.

Out of it came the Spinnaker Tower and Gunwharf Quays shopping and leisure complex, which was to transform the way the world looked at Portsmouth and its near neighbour.

But the key to the success of the new was the refurbishment of the old.

That £100m project paved the way for grand old edifices on the former HMS Vernon site (now Gunwharf), such as the Vulcan building and old customs house, to be given a new 21st century lease of life. The former as the much-admired aspex art gallery, the latter as a pub.

Across the water at Gosport we have seen the re-emergence and restoration of magnificent Georgian buildings at Priddy’s Hard and the Royal Clarence Yard, with hundreds of modern new homes added to the stylish historic mix.

And there is more to come. As we report today, English Heritage has identified this area as having the most valuable cluster of historically-significant buildings in the country.

All linked to the region’s indelible association with the military, we are blessed with some marvellous architectural gems.

Whether these are eventually converted into homes or offices really does not matter as long as the buildings are saved from dereliction and, of course, treated sympathetically.

More than £600,000 is to be spent by a combination of local authorities and other interested organisations to see how many of these old Ministry of Defence-owned buildings can be restored and retained.

As we proved with the first plan for the harbour, it can be done.

This new project might just spark the second renaissance of Portsmouth Harbour.

And we would all welcome that.