New pictures show vision for Portsmouth city centre - as council told it must take 'fresh look' at what can be done

WITH ambitious plans to redevelop swathes of the city centre, Portsmouth City Council needs to take ‘a fresh look’ at what can be done, the cabinet member for economic development has said.

By Josh Wright
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 12:01 am

Councillor Steve Pitt, whose portfolio also includes leisure and culture, said there was an opportunity to deliver long-term priorities as part of these projects and work to finalise plans continues.

‘We need to seize the moment to take a fresh look at what our city centre can be, how it can best serve our communities, our retailers and businesses and become an adaptable and vibrant focal point for future generations,' he said.

‘We have big ambitions for Portsmouth city centre and there’s a lot we want to achieve. We want people to share their big ideas and priorities for the future with us so we can create a city centre that flies the flag for Portsmouth.’

An artist's impression of what a new public square near St Agatha's Church on the former Tricorn site could look like Picture: Portsmouth City Council

City centre in zones

More than 20 separate projects are already in the works across the area - which the council has split into three zones: north, central and south - and Cllr Pitt said there was still scope to build on these.

Thousands of homes; new public spaces; an overhaul of the road network; new retail and hotel facilities; and 'major refurbishment' projects are all included in various proposals put together to regenerate the city centre, building on brownfield or 'underused' plots of land.

These schemes play a key role in council plans to meet government housing targets and regenerate the area.

An artist's impression of what the junction between Charlotte Street and Commercial Road could look like Picture: Portsmouth City Council

‘The use of a compulsory purchase order would make sure we are not held to ransom by any of these which could derail the whole project,’ council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said at the time.

Development plans in central Portsmouth

A map showing the various zones for the Portsmouth city centre regeneration plans Picture: Portsmouth City Council

Alongside this work, various schemes are being progressed by private developers, including the planning application for the Slindon Street Post Office development which, if approved, will see 176 homes and a hotel built. The application is expected to go before the planning committee for a decision later this year.

The council said efforts to bring forward proposals for the former Debenhams store, with a new building up to 38 storeys in height providing housing, student accommodation and commercial space, and a 33-storey scheme for the Matalan site for a mix of housing and office space were also advancing.

Planning permission for a £135m, 12-storey University of Portsmouth building on the edge of Victoria Park was granted at the end of last year.

Negotiations are still taking place around the land south of Catherine House, according to a cabinet report.

Cllr Steve Pitt

And a series of transport schemes have been put together to complement planned development through South East Hampshire Rapid Transit. The council is also planning a new two-way bus lane on Unicorn Road and Cascades Approach.

Cultured approach

‘We are seeing a cultural-led regeneration of our city,’ cabinet member for planning policy Lee Hunt said, referring to efforts to regenerate the area through more than buildings.

This includes a £2m lottery-funded revamp of Victoria Park and planned investment in the Guildhall and New Theatre Royal.

The cost of the latter two projects has been included in a council bid for more than £19m through the Levelling Up Fund which also includes proposals to create new community spaces and facilities alongside new planting projects.

The council said this bid would 'breathe new life into areas like Guildhall Walk that have felt the impact of changing habits and the coronavirus pandemic'.

The council has also been awarded £800,000 through three different funds for projects aimed at making the Commercial Road area safer for women by creating 'welcoming spaces'.

'This council is very, very good at winning outside money from all sorts of other places from government, from charities, from sports of government bodies and from conservation bodies.' Cllr Hunt added.

'All these visitors coming in would create a regeneration for the shops and vitality and vibrancy for the area.'

His comments were echoed by Cllr Pitt: 'We want culture to lead the way with new and inviting public spaces, innovative events, art, music, cafes and restaurants sitting alongside well-known and independent retailers.

'Where private developments are being proposed, we need to make sure that they are going to support our ambitions and play their part in delivering the right mix for a revitalised city centre.'

‘Piecemeal’ criticism

Concerns have been raised about the ‘piecemeal’ approach being taken and, following a January visit, the High Streets Task Force has warned that ‘collaborative working’ is ‘the main barrier to transformation in Portsmouth’.

It has made a series of recommendations to the council in a bid to tackle this, including the creation of a 'comprehensive partnership structure' and increase engagement with various bodies and the public.

Speaking at Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Cllr Pitt acknowledged the issue.

‘Councils tend to make announcements about things in quite a piecemeal way sometimes, especially when it’s a very big area of work,’ he said.

‘As part of that you can lose the overall vision of what you wanted to achieve because it looks like you’re just delivering little projects and you're not actually delivering the overall vision.’

He said the decision to bring forward a report to the meeting giving an overview of its plans was ‘absolutely crucial’ in tackling that.

'But it's not just crucial in terms of being able to project that vision for what you want for the city centre for the sake of it,’ he added. ‘It’s important because that's the vision that will secure the investment we need.

'The council's capital programme doesn't have hundreds of millions sloshing around to be able to do all these pieces of work.

'We're probably all aware of bits and pieces happening but this does bring everything together in one place and shows that across the city centre there is an awful lot happening

'And if we are successful with a couple of funding bids that we've got in at the moment, that will really kickstart this in a big way. So fingers-crossed that happens but if not we won't give up.’

Council officers have also asked for a new 'city centre place development manager' position is introduced on an initial three-year pilot in a bid to oversee this work. A report recommending this will be put forward to cabinet members ‘in due course’, it said.

The council is planning to hold a series of public consultations.