'Exciting' plans to demolish former Debenhams could 'kick start' regeneration in Portsmouth

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'EXCITING' plans to demolish a former Debenhams in Portsmouth for could 'kick start' the regeneration of the city centre – but a warning has been issued that the city does not want another ‘Tricorn site’ situation.

Proposals to knock down the department store, which did not reopen after lockdown, in Commercial Road have emerged with scope to replace it with a new development including shops, homes and other uses.

Local figureheads have welcomed the news believing the area is in 'need of investment' but have warned affordable housing is needed.

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Plans to convert Southsea Debenhams into 134 homes and health hub given go ahead
Debenhams. Commercial Rd, Portsmouth
Picture: Chris Moorhouse      (161220-33)Debenhams. Commercial Rd, Portsmouth
Picture: Chris Moorhouse      (161220-33)
Debenhams. Commercial Rd, Portsmouth Picture: Chris Moorhouse (161220-33)

Phil Salmon Planning Ltd, who will be acting as an agent for the developers, said: 'We are currently working up exciting development proposals for the site, that extends to Station Street and includes the car park, that we believe will kick start the regeneration of the city centre.

'These proposals will be revealed and presented in a public exhibition in the very near future. We are committed to seeking views from the public before finalising a formal planning application later this year.'

Council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said the development could help the council meet its housing targets.

'It's very clear that the age of the department store has now gone and it's really important we don't have empty shops sitting around,' he said.

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'We have been lucky in Portsmouth that we are getting new uses for the Debenhams in Southsea as well as Knight & Lee. There are BHS sites across the country that have sat empty for six or seven years.

'Government has told us we have to find space for 17,000 new houses in the city, which is far too many. We are going to have to find space for them, which means spaces in the city centre will be needed.'

However, ward councillor for the affected area, Cllr Claire Udy, wanted to make sure the homes were affordable for local people.

She said: 'My priority here is the residents of Charles Dickens, many who live in social housing and poverty. If we see housing, it needs to be social, and we need to include things that do not exclude residents because of their financial status.

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'The gentrification of Commercial Road is one of the biggest threats to the community. As the days pass, the more I see things that spread the rich poor divide further and with most developments of this ilk I am highly sceptical.'

And Cllr Cal Corkery - who also represents Charles Dickens ward - urged developers to have plans in place before demolition, to avoid a similar situation to the Tricorn

'I would have some concerns that the demolition might go ahead without a firm plan of what's going to replace it - we don't want to be left in a Tricorn situation where it was knocked down and we were just left with a car park,' he said.

He added: 'Clearly the area is in need of investment.

'There's a danger the property developer will be looking to make as much profit as possible and will be squeezing as many flats in as they can. We need flats people can actually afford.

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'What I'd like to see is a mixed development that contributes towards the regeneration of the city centre by providing retail and other community facilities as well as a decent proportion of affordable housing that is good sized - not just rabbit hutches in the sky.'

As reported, separate plans to knock down shops along nearby Arundel Street have been submitted by Fusion Students.

Don Price, who runs S&D Sparkles, which is one of the shops which could be demolished for the new student housing, said any new shops on the Debenhams site should be offered to those affected.

He said: 'I would hope they would offer the retail units to the shops that are being knocked down. We are hoping we can relocate and this could be a chance to do that.

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'They would need to offer them at affordable rates. So many shops along Commercial Road are disappearing because the rent is too high.

'Since Christmas trade has been really rubbish.'

Shaping Portsmouth boss Stef Nienaltowski believed the future of high streets in Portsmouth could be 'bright.'

He said: 'The city still has a significant need for this type of regeneration with high quality commercial space whether that be co-working or retail.

'The high street future Portsmouth has is a bright one, with a great mix of both franchise and owned outlets. The growth plans we have for this sector from June 21 onwards are significant and the need for updated buildings with easy in / out terms of occupancy is going to be vital to support this strategy.

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'As with other developments we have in the city we are going to see a renewed focus on this sector and the plans for this part of commercial road is going to add to that portfolio and shine a light on the quality we need to attract new businesses to the area.'

So far only an application to demolish the store in Commercial Road has been submitted.

Plans to convert the former Debenhams Store in Palmerston Road, Southsea, into homes and other facilities were approved earlier this year.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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