MULTI-MILLION pound plans to transform Portsmouth’s city centre are back on track, The News can exclusively reveal.
Proposals for the £500m Northern Quarter shops scheme were shelved in 2008 as the recession began to bite – but now they are set to move forward once again.
And The News understands a huge John Lewis department store and a Marks and Spencer remain at the heart of the proposed development.
The revelation comes as business and council leaders meet today to discuss a Shaping the Future of Portsmouth strategy which brings together multi-million pound projects that will transform the city over the coming years.Next month the council will decide on crucial legal details of the Northern Quarter proposals, before a full plan is submitted early next year by developers Centros, who remain behind the project.
Kathy Wadsworth, strategic director for Portsmouth City Council, said the commitment of Centros to the project never wavered, but the economic crash changed everything.
She said: ‘The developer found that the plans they had drawn up before 2008 were no longer viable, but they had regular meetings with us throughout the period since, and always intended to submit new plans.
‘They believe the time is now right to revive the project and we are looking to support them as much as we can.
‘Portsmouth deserves a really fantastic city centre and we are all looking forward to see what Centros has come up with.’
Original plans submitted by Centros boasted a million square feet of commercial floor space, but the council says the new plans will be significantly revised.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, who is also the city councillor for regeneration, said the scheme was just one part of a plan to increase Portsmouth’s competitiveness in business and industry.
He said: ‘This strategy has been developed over the last 12 months by involving people from all economic sectors and all parts of the city.’
Today more than 100 businesses will attend a conference to hear about the Shaping the Future of Portsmouth strategy. Among the developments planned are new office space at Lakeside Northarbour, a new hotel in the former Zurich headquarters, and the regeneration of Somers Town.
John Marsh, development director of Centros, said: ‘We have examined many scheme options, and we’re now down to a shortlist of two, which we are taking forward in consultation with the council.
‘A completed Northern Quarter will ensure that the city achieves its ambition of becoming one of Europe’s leading waterfront cities.’
Recession forced developer to shelve plans
CENTROS was forced to put the regeneration of the city centre on hold during the recession.
The firm insisted that the financial crisis meant its original plans were not ‘economically viable’ and had to be scrapped.
The developer was due to start work in 2009, but instead the council and a handful of other groups resorted to interim measures such as improving benches and flower beds and finding temporary uses for the derelict shops at the northern end of Commercial Road.
The original scheme would have involved a four-star hotel, a John Lewis and Marks and Spencer, 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.
According to a Centros spokesman, building work under the revised scheme is now likely to start in 2015.