CALLS were today made for Harry Redknapp to act to develop the burnt-out former Joanna’s nightclub.
City leaders have hit out at the former Pompey manager, who owns the Southsea site which was destroyed by fire on Tuesday night.
They say Redknapp’s firm, Pierfront Developments, should get on with building on the derelict club which, along with neighbouring empty land also owned by Mr Redknapp forms an eyesore on Southsea seafront.
Mr Redknapp bought the site and announced plans to redevelop it by building shops and luxury homes.
But the plans were put on hold following the financial crash in 2008, leaving the building to sit empty.
And, as previously reported in The News, Mr Redknapp has been locked in a battle with the council as he tries to avoid building affordable homes as part of his proposed luxury development.
Now the leader of Portsmouth City Council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has said the developer should have acted more quickly to prevent accidents.
He said: ‘There was planning permission given years ago and they could have developed it whenever they wanted to, but it has sat empty instead.
‘This is what far too many developers do, they come to the city and ask for planning permission, and they should get on with using it.
‘Leaving it empty increases the risk of something like this happening. I would now like to see them put that building back how it was and get a development done quickly.’
He added: ‘It used to be a beautiful building on the seafront and I hope when it is rebuilt its impressive facade can be recreated. People in the navy will remember it as the old Navy’s School of Dancing and they will miss it because of that.’
His view was echoed by the council’s Conservative group finance chief, Cllr Donna Jones.
She said: ‘They got the planning permission a long time ago and it’s time it was developed. For one thing it just added to the view of the seafront as run-down and dominated by eyesores, but it the longer it sat empty the greater the risk of arson or accidents.’
Following the fire about 60 people were evacuated to a council-run rest centre set up at a nearby Holiday Inn.
Almost all the people evacuated were guests at the Royal Beach Hotel, on South Parade, but some were residents of nearby flats.
Jason Parker, managing director of Bernards Estate Agents in Southsea which is managing Mr Redknapp’s land, said it was logical that the longer any building stands empty, the more likely it becomes that it could be damaged, but insisted that the delay was not the developer’s fault.
‘This has been a horrendous setback for Pierfront Developments,’ he said.
‘We can’t help the fact that the market has had such a period of decline and that the banks have stopped lending money for development finance which was beyond our control.’
Mr Parker added that before the fire an agreement had been reached for a convenience store to move into the building’s ground floor and that this could now be at risk.
Pierfront has a planning application which is due to be heard on August 17 for the adjacent Savoy Buildings site, he said.
‘The outcome of that is even more important in light of this horrendous incident and we sincerely hope that the planning committee members do not deal our client and the Seafront Conservation Area a further blow by refusing consent.
‘Otherwise the future of this site becomes at best precarious for the foreseeable future.’
Pierfront had previously offered the council £400,000 to be allowed to develop the site without low-cost homes, but was refused permission.