CITY leaders insist plans to revamp Portsmouth’s Commercial Road in a £300,000 boost to traders and shoppers remain on track.
Deputy Tory council boss Councillor Luke Stubbs says work will begin in the next two months on the completion of a project to breathe new life into the shopping precinct.
A fund totalling £300,000 was set aside in the 2015/2016 capital budget – cash for building schemes and not everyday council running costs – to boost the city centre.
Cllr Stubbs says contractors are set to get to work sandblasting down benches, planting new trees and replacing paving slabs in the southern end with a fresh layer.
A small chunk was spent last year taking out a sculpture by Cascades Shopping Centre, but nothing has materialised since.
But critics are concerned by the lack of urgency.
Cllr Stubbs said: ‘The importance of it is to sustain footfall in Commercial Road.
‘The basis on which this scheme was drawn up was that the experts in this are the shopkeepers.
‘They know what brings people to this area and what doesn’t.’
The long-term aspiration, as reported, is for a modern transport network to be created around the city centre – which could finally kickstart the development of a multi-million pound leisure and housing development.
It comes after the collapse of the £500m Northern Quarter shopping vision, which first materialised in the late 1990s but was dropped in 2014 due to the financial risks involved.
Cllr Stubbs said: ‘The road scheme, if that goes ahead, is about re-uniting the land in that area of the city in order to facilitate the redevelopment of that area as whole, for retail and for housing.
‘But in the short term, it’s about making the most of what we have got.
‘Arundel Street was tidied up about a year ago, and it’s looking a lot better.’
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth Lib Dem leader, is concerned the project has taken too long and shoppers are suffering.
He said: ‘There doesn’t seem to be any urgency, there doesn’t seem to be any push for things to happen.
‘We have always been told, for years and years, that Portsmouth as a shopping centre performs way below it should for the size of the city.
‘I have always been told we are very unlike most other places, because Portsmouth has untapped capacity and could cope with more shopping.’