Southsea Debenhams: 'Last resort' to force compulsory purchase of the Portsmouth site to kickstart redevelopment of Palmerston Road area
The move to try and force the hand of the Middle Eastern owner of the building, which already has planning permission and new occupants lined up, was submitted amid fears the unnamed organisation had the financial resources to sit on the empty building for 20 years.
A deal was agreed between the council, through its company Ravelin, and the building’s owner to buy the building at the end of 2021 but in May the latter pulled out. A council report said: ‘It is anticipated that no further progress can be made’.
Planning permission to redevelop the site was granted by the council in January 2021 and fully agreed in November of the same year. A business case has since also been approved for the relocation of Trafalgar Medical Group Practice to the new ground floor health centre.
‘Negotiations to purchase through agreement have failed to make progress,’ a cabinet report said. ‘The council has reached a position of last resort,’ adding that the ramifications of leaving the building empty were ‘serious’.
Speaking at Tuesday’s (March 7) cabinet meeting, Martin Northern, a Southsea resident, and the Lib Dem election candidate for the St Jude ward which covers the Palmerston Road site, urged councillors to do all they could to progress a scheme.
‘The area around Debenhams – as it’s been closed so long – has become such a dark and dirty part of the city,’ he said. ‘It’s super important that we, as a council, own the building so that we can start to clean it up.’
He said the project, combined with plans for the Knight & Lee building would ‘massively transform’ the area and bring in much-needed healthcare facilities.
The council’s leader, councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said it was vital the council took every step available to try and progress the redevelopment of the building.
‘Everything is there for this area to be redeveloped and yet the owner has sat on this building and has the financial resources to continue to sit on this building and leave it empty for 20 years,’ he said. ‘This is where the council has to take action.
‘There are three options: either the owner gets on and gets the redevelopment done, they sell it to someone who will get it done or if neither of those are done we have to move to compulsory purchase.’
Councillor Lee Hunt, the cabinet member for planning policy and city development, said the decision to pursue a compulsory purchase order ‘sends out a signal’ that the council is willing to take steps to progress the building’s redevelopment, and the redevelopment of other brownfield sites in the city.
Cabinet members said they hoped merely beginning the process would force the hand of the building’s owner but that they were willing to pursue it if no progress is made.
‘In this particular case these is planning consent, there is a business case around developing the building, there is an opportunity to bring the ground floor into a very important community use,’ cabinet member for economic development, councillor Steve Pitt, said. ‘Those things stack up here and that’s why it’s so important.
‘What we cannot tolerate as a council is people just sitting there land banking for years on end with no clear plans on what’s going to happen.’
After winning the unanimous support of the cabinet on Tuesday, the order will go to next week’s full council meeting for final sign-off.