If Luke Stubbs, the councillor responsible for regeneration, thinks Portsmouth’s shopping centres are on the up, he probably needs a different job.
Aside from the fact shopping centres in towns outside Portsmouth have been struggling for years – Waterlooville precinct, for example, is a shadow of its former self – the shopping streets in the city have become a mecca for charity shop bargain hunters and pound shop devotees. And don’t get me started on Cascades.
When I moved back to Portsmouth after more than 10 years I was astonished to find the glass lifts had gone, as had the large food court with its waterfall, and it had turned into a failing high street with a roof.
The Northern Quarter plan, I found out, was responsible for this change, as Portsmouth City Council prepared for the redevelopment of the city’s main shopping area. These preparations included the compulsory purchase of shops at the top end of Commercial Road – forcing out smaller and independent traders.
With the Northern Quarter developer Centros (‘it’s the recession holding us up, honest’) finally admitting it needed to scrap its plan, what are we left with?
A struggling Commercial Road. A Cascades that’s making the best of what it’s got left. Cosham, that needs support. North End shops that are a mecca for the toothless and the man who likes to dance to his own rhythm and pop into Audio T to hug the staff. Struggling independents doing their best in Eastney, Fratton, Copnor and other areas.
Council staff are trying to help these areas but the fact remains our shopping centres are not ‘getting better’, Councillor Stubbs.
What they are doing is the best they can and our elected representatives ignoring the fact they need proper, serious help, will only lead to their death. The £2m owed to Portsmouth City Council by Centros might be a good start.
We need a robust plan – with a huge shopping centre redevelopment at the heart of it.