Shopping for new answers to boost the city

Commercial Road in Portsmouth
Commercial Road in Portsmouth
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Better facilities are key to regenerating one of Portsmouth’s primary shopping areas.

That was the overwhelming message given by hundreds of readers of The News following a major survey by the paper on the city’s prospects.

More than 1,200 took part in our Big City questionnaire, which sought to find out what residents value most about the city – and top areas they want to see changed.

And high up on the list was improving Commercial Road.

The city centre destination has been struggling to pull in customers in recent years.

With trade dipping, and footfall struggling, major retailers have started calling time on the street, with the likes of Marks & Spencer due to pull out later next year and record outlet HMV having already shut.

Now more 86 per cent of people polled say attracting better shops is vital to improving the situation.

On top of bolstering the number of quality shops, almost half of those surveyed (46.16 per cent) said more restaurants and bars was important to boosting the street’s trade.

While more than half (54.87 per cent) said it was vital that there was a ‘destination’ attraction in Commercial Road, to help pull in the punters.

But a whopping three quarters of people (79.36 per cent) said better road connections would be key to bettering the city centre’s prospects.

City leaders have now had their say, claiming they are working hard to improve the situation.

But Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones said her hands were tied, to a degree, as the authority does not own the land on which the shops were based.

This means the council is limited in the support it can offer. She added the Tory administration had kept business rates low, while looking at ideas to improve the streetscape and make it more attractive.

But she said: ‘With the high street there is a very clear message: “If you don’t use it you could lose it”.

‘This is a national problem facing high streets up and down the country with more people shopping online.’

The council boss said the authority had a number of ‘exciting’ opportunities in the pipeline to improve the situation.

Among them included proposals to offer a larger street market and a major new scheme to overhaul the city centre’s road network.

Yesterday the council submitted a planning application which looks to kick-start the new city centre redevelopment.

The £60m plan would include a range of improvements including better access to both Victory Retail Park and car parks in Church Street.

The scheme will also see a realignment of the main route from the M275 – which the council says could unlock £500m of new investment in Portsmouth through new shops, and retail units, creating 9,600 new jobs.

‘This scheme is vital for the growth of the city and will bring huge benefits for residents and businesses alike as it will be the catalyst for major regeneration including new leisure facilities, shops, homes and office space,’ said Cllr Jones.

Of the people quizzed in The News’s survey, 14.47 per cent of them said they visited shopping centres several times a week.

However, this dips, with more than a fifth (20.98 per cent) saying the shop at city shopping hubs once a week, while 22.03 per cent said they only visited a few times a month.

Elsewhere, more than a third of people said they rarely ever visited the city’s museums with 29.82 per cent visiting once every few months.

Almost half of those quizzed said they never visited sport/fitness/leisure clubs (44.04 per cent) with a fifth of people saying they visit the nearby countryside instead.