It’s time for ideas about improving retail centre

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Circumstance meant Portsmouth’s Commercial Road shopping centre was always going to have a tough time. The competition from Gunwharf Quays and the shelving of plans to redevelop and reinvigorate the Northern Quarter have been a double whammy that have hit the city’s retail heart extremely hard.

Add into the mix the effects of the recession, with people watching their spending, and the drop-off in visitors to Commercial Road is not hard to understand. But a reduction in footfall of 41 per cent over the past decade is still shocking.

Of course, the city council’s decision to go for Gunwharf was always going to be like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

While it’s true that the waterfront development attracts many people from out of town, it is also extremely popular among Portsmouth residents.

But arguably the biggest difficulty has been the failure to push through ambitious plans to modernise the city’s retail centre that included a £500m shopping area containing 80 stores, restaurants and cafes.

Compulsory Purchase Orders were issued on businesses in Commercial Road, but then the economy took a nosedive and the much-vaunted Northern Quarter never happened.

Frustratingly, the area has been in limbo ever since, although developer Centros says it’s redesigning the scheme and is hopeful work may begin in the next three to four years.

But we believe the city council must respond now to the challenge of breathing life back into Commercial Road. Livelihoods are at stake, plus we must never forget it is still our city’s central shopping area.

As Ken Higson, the owner of Beads Bazaar in nearby Charlotte Street, says: ‘Something must be done. The council must encourage premium shops to come here, or there’s no way back.’

The truth is that Commercial Road has failed to keep up with the changing times. It needs a new vision and some long, hard thought about how improvement can be achieved and footfall figures can start to be reversed.