New plans to revitalise high streets are welcome

Michael Eisner

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Anyone over the age of 40 – or any regular readers of our Remember When pages – will be able to tell you about the difference between our city’s current high streets and how they were in years gone by.

The parade of shops that would act as a self-contained purveyor of all things – with a greengrocer, butcher, baker, ironmonger and clothes shop – is now, largely, a thing of the past.

Far more likely is that, among the convenience stores, estate agents, hairdressers and charity shops, the occasional independent shop will thrive but overall we remain on a downwards slope with vitality being sucked out of local shopping centres.

It’s not all bad news, of course. Albert Road continues to thrive and now has a reputation that draws people in. Some areas, such as Eastney Road, and Cosham, have a loyal customer base.

But many of the ‘satellite’ high streets, such as those in North End, the parade of shops in Allaway Avenue in Paulsgrove, or Fratton Road, have not seen the best of times recently. And this isn’t just a city-centric problem. Gosport and Leigh Park have had better news recently but it’s not too long ago that the number of empty units was causing concern.

So we welcome the discussions by Portsmouth City Council to look at ways of encouraging customers into smaller shopping areas. Local government can never dictate where people shop, of course, but nor should it abdicate its responsibility to aid prosperity outside the more glamorous major centres. Indeed, our Shop Local campaign is focused round the value, both economically and in providing interest and diversity, that smaller shops bring. We’ll miss them if they go.

So let’s experiment with themed markets in less central precincts. Let’s send council officers out there to talk to shopkeepers to find out what they think could help. Let’s see planning decisions take into consideration their effect on neighbourhood high streets.

Because while it would be a brave man to predict the end of supermarket shopping and the full renaissance of the local high street, it doesn’t mean we should stand around and do nothing.

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