WORK is well under way to turn an empty site in Portsmouth into a new retail park.
The £16.2m development, in North Harbour, will have eight stores and a gym.
As part of the building project, being completed by Simons Group, students from the construction course at Highbury College will be invited onto the site to learn.
The news was revealed at the turf cutting ceremony held earlier today.
Portsmouth City Council will buy Portsmouth Retail Park, next to Tesco Extra and KFC, as part of its property investment portfolio which now includes 11 sites. The council hopes the site will bring in nearly £1m a year.
Howard Griffith, project manager at Simons Group, said: ‘The construction for this site is going very well.
It is going to bring jobs and prosperity into PortsmouthCllr Luke Stubbs
‘At the moment a lot of it is digging in the ground so you can’t see a lot going on but we are happy with its progress.
‘As part of the project we will be engaging with Highbury College and giving the students the opportunity of a site visit and get an understanding of how it works.’
Mr Griffith added they hope to have the site ready for the retailers by February. Nine businesses are lined up to move into the three units including Decathalon, Subway, Costa, Greggs, Pure Gym, Home Bargains, Jollyes pet superstore, Explore Learning and Quality Pet Care.
The site used to belong to Tesco and with the help Lambert Smith Hampton, ideas of how to develop it started.
The property consultancy firm also worked to bring the council forward as a potential buyer.
Councillor Luke Stubbs, deputy leader of the council, said: ‘It is great to see the site progressing as it has been empty for many years.
‘It is going to bring jobs and prosperity into Portsmouth. The Southampton Road area is changing and there is a lot of new retail here.
‘It is great all the units are let and it should generate a profit for the council which can go towards protecting services.’
This is the 11th property the council has invested in including a warehouse in Birmingham, a Waitrose supermarket in Somerset and a warehouse in Gloucestershire.
The investments had been criticised for being outside of the city but council leader Donna Jones welcomed their latest site being in the city.
She said: ‘We are delighted to have found the right property investment in Portsmouth - one that can boost our property investment portfolio by bringing in more money while boosting jobs and the economy too.
‘This investment is about making money to pay for council services and creating jobs. It will make a real difference at a time when councils continue to face cuts to the funding we receive from the government.’
James Hill, interim director of property and housing at the council, added: ‘The strategy is to invest where we can to get the best return for the council. This investment is good for the local economy.’
Speaking of the investment, a council spokesman said: ‘The property investments are being made with borrowed money, the law says the council can only spend this borrowed money on assets where it is going to make a profit or save on existing costs.
‘It would be illegal for the council to spend this money on day-to-day council services.
‘The council has to pay back the money it has borrowed so it can’t spend it directly in areas that don’t generate a profit. But the profits made through this scheme are already being reinvested in Portsmouth services.
‘The profit made through rental income of the properties can be spent on any services.’