Portsmouth's Commercial Road is 'a shadow' of its former self as action plan is drawn up to revamp the city

The city centre has been described as “a shadow of what it was” as a draft plan is put forward to revitalise Portsmouth’s high street areas.
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Local shops, national chains and the government have reacted to a strategy for revitalising the city’s high streets which was drafted following evidence gathered from a Portsmouth City Council scrutiny panel.

Retailers and council workers have suggested an improved market, street entertainment, and reinstating a high street coordinator as well as a business improvement district to promote communication between the council and traders.

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Chair of the panel, Councillor Russell Simpson, said that shop owners in Commercial Road felt that communication from the council “hasn’t been enough”.

Work is ongoing to help improve Commercial RoadWork is ongoing to help improve Commercial Road
Work is ongoing to help improve Commercial Road

The council used to have a high-street coordinator which “has been missed” by witnesses, he said that existing council teams “do a great job” but due to cuts “they are spread thin” and that a dedicated high street team could help connect the city’s high streets.

He added: “While we can’t go back in time, Commercial Road is a shadow of what it was, with even less choice than it had and many units empty. I, like everyone else in Portsmouth, want a diverse and vibrant high street that gives us choice.”

Andrew Phillip, Cascades centre manager, welcomed the draft strategy, noting the absence of a high street coordinator as a potential reason for Marks and Spencer’s withdrawal from Commercial Road in 2018.

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He stressed the importance of high streets providing a diverse range of experiences. He noted that the high streets with the most variety recovered the quickest from the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Phillip also underscored the impact of business rates, which are set by central government, and increases to the minimum wage on retailers’ margins.

Tom Ironside, the director of business and regulation at the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the council’s review however, he said it’s “essential” that central government is “supportive”. He added that reforms to business rates, crime prevention and improved planning policy are all key to the revival of high streets.

In response, a central government spokesperson noted the levelling-up agenda which has invested more than £30m in Portsmouth. “We are also extending the 75 per cent reduction in business rates bills into next year, and delivering on our review to make the system more responsive and remove barriers to investment,” they said. “This includes a new improvement relief taking effect next month and making revaluations more frequent.”