Breakthrough in ambitious bid to create Portsmouth Northern Quarter shopping development
FRESH hopes have emerged that an ambitious plan to create a multi-million pound shopping complex in Portsmouth can finally get off the ground.
The grand £500m Northern Quarter proposal, to build a major retail scheme off Market Way, on the site of the former Tricorn Centre and surrounding land, was first put together back in 2003 by developer Centros.
But the recession hit in 2008, which caused the firm to put its proposal on hold. Then the whole idea crashed altogether in 2014 as it was deemed too much of a financial risk.
But The News can reveal the council has held new talks with Centros to bring a revised shopping hub to life – and the company is keen to get started after years of frustration.
Tory council leader Donna Jones said the creation of a new, accessible road system into the city centre would give Centros – and financial backer Delancey – confidence they can put together a creative plan.
And Cllr Jones said the council had put in a bid for around £30m to the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership – which secures government money – to build a modern transport route leading into the heart of Portsmouth.
Although the funding could take years to secure – with the LEP prioritising other sites including Chickenhall Link Road in Eastleigh – the plan is for a new road to improve traffic flow in Portsmouth and then free up land for the Northern Quarter project to take place.
Cllr Jones, who is also now in charge of the council’s planning, regeneration and economic development portfolio, following a cabinet reshuffle, said: ‘I have been working with Centros to go through options for master planning and redeveloping the site at the top of Commercial Road, looking at what is required in terms of retail, and also looking at if we can get an element of residential housing in.
‘This is combined, with a bid for money from Growth Deal round three, to rebuild the bottom of the motorway.
‘This is a £30m regeneration scheme to enable traffic to move freely and to free up land to the eastern side at the top of Commercial Road.’
A Centros spokesman said: ‘Centros is still keen to get the site regenerated and help in the restoration of the city centre.
‘Centros is currently in active discussions with the council about how it can be achieved.
‘Centros has been looking at a first-phase development on the Tricorn site, which would be a mix of uses – mainly retail and leisure, and possibly some residential.’
It comes after Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond recently visited the United Arab Emirates to see if a major financial backer could inject more cash into city developments, including the Northern Quarter shopping scheme.
Portsmouth Lib Dem leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who was in charge of the council from 2004 to 2014, said: ‘I am pleased if progress is being made to finally make it happen.
‘The plan to re-do the road in and out of the city, so it followed the dock wall, has been around many years and was approved by the council five years ago.
‘It’s about £20m to re-do the road. It would mean we can free up more land and not have a large road running through the middle of a development.’
Cllr Vernon-Jackson fears Centros has missed a deadline it initially agreed to meet to submit a fresh planning application, though this has not been confirmed.
THE NORTHERN QUARTER SAGA
THE News revealed in November, 2014 how the original £500m project to build a major Northern Quarter shopping complex in Portsmouth had been scrapped.
It was anticipated the 500,000sq ft development would have been built by 2017.
The project had already been scaled down from how it looked before the recession in 2008. Originally, Centros hoped to create a 900,000 sq ft retail hub with a vast array of shops costing £500m.
Deputy council leader Councillor Luke Stubbs who was in charge of the Tory cabinet’s planning, regeneration and economic development portfolio in 2014, said he realised the project ‘was in trouble’ when the Tories took over that summer.
He warned at the time that the council – which owns the site of the former Tricorn centre and surrounding land and leases it to Centros – was not willing to contribute funding. Speaking in 2014, Cllr Stubbs said: ‘A developer is entitled to take this position – but from the point of view of the city we need to secure the development of that site.
‘It’s a disappointing position. We will try to resolve this problem as quickly as we can, but I can’t make promises about any particular timescale.’
Cllr Stubbs also criticised former planning boss Mike Hancock, also the former MP for Portsmouth South, for failing to apply enough pressure on Centros.
Mr Hancock said a number of legal battles over the Northern Quarter were to blame for nothing ever coming to light.
Protestor Mark Austin took the council to the High Court as he claimed it acted illegally in the way it bought up land for the project and the way it appointed developer Centros.
All of his court challenges were thrown out. Speaking in 2014, Mr Hancock said: ‘Not having that development was a tragedy five years ago. It’s a blow for the city. But no blame will fall at my door.’
The fiasco resulted in plans for a new road network being put on the backburner. But now the council is trying to get the road scheme done first so Centros is attracted by a modern transport system into the city that will enable regeneration to happen.