Old Debenhams store in Portsmouth could be transformed into the tallest skyscraper in the city

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THE ‘first skyscraper’ in Portsmouth would be built on the site of the disused Debenhams department store in the city centre under new plans drawn-up for the building.

Developer Phil Salmon Ltd will hold a public consultation on Thursday, unveiling proposals for more than 400 homes that include a 38-storey building, which would be the tallest in the city.

The Isle of Wight-based firm said it was planning to submit a planning application in the spring for the development which it would name Jubilee Place in recognition of the platinum jubilee and the Queen Elizabeth II fountain.

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A CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon LtdA CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon Ltd
A CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon Ltd

‘The site, including the car park, has remained vacant since [March 2020],’ it said in a statement. ‘It now represents a significant opportunity to kick start the regeneration of the city centre: to encourage new investment and to promote a mixed-use scheme that includes new retail space, commercial space, homes and amenity areas.’

The 38-storey skyscraper has been described as a ‘key element’ of the proposal for the corner of Commercial Road and Arundel Street.

In total, it is proposed that the redeveloped site would provide 1,800sqm of ground floor retails space with 3,600 sqm of commercial space above it with pedestrian links across the site. More than 400 homes, which would include an unspecified amount of ‘affordable key worker housing’, would be included.

However, concerns have been raised that the developer has yet to rule out building student accommodation which councillors said ‘was not needed’.

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A CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon LtdA CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon Ltd
A CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon Ltd

Steve Pitt, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for economic development, welcomed the proposed business space but said he was ‘yet to be convinced’ about the overall scheme.

‘I willl be very interested to see the feedback from the public,’ he said. ‘It’s a massive change proposed for that area – and a massive building, the city’s first skyscraper – but we still need to see the final details of any planning application that comes forward.

‘The mention of more student accommodation in the plans we were shown is more of a concern to me – it’s not something we need more of in the city. However, these are high-level plans and a lot of the specifics remain to be seen.’

A CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon LtdA CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon Ltd
A CGI of the proposed redevelopment. Picture: Phil Salmon Ltd

Councillor Cal Corkery, who represents the Charles Dickens ward, echoed Cllr Pitt’s concerns but welcomed the redevelopment of the site.

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He said: ‘Many local people will rue the loss of a large department store on this key city centre street but the high street is changing and it’s positive to see new development being brought forward.

‘The suggestion of commercial space at lower levels with accommodation above seems to strike the right balance between providing places for people to shop and live.’

But he added that it was ‘unclear’ what type of housing would be built and said the area needed ‘decent quality homes which are affordable for local people struggling with the cost of living’ not ‘expensive luxury student accommodation’.

His fellow Charles Dickens ward councillor Yinka Adeniran said the proposal reflected the changing status of Commercial Road to an increasingly residential area.

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'The architecture of the building is remarkable and there is no doubt it will be one of the iconic landscapes in Portsmouth,' she said. 'A 38-storey building will make a notable contribution in alleviating accommodation problems in Portsmouth.'

Councillor Daniel Wemyss, the Conservative opposition spokesman for housing, said the developer needed to listen to the concerns and ideas of the public.

'Portsmouth needs good quality housing stock that is affordable to local people and gives people choice,' he said. 'I'm pleased to see the developer will set aside homes for key workers but I do have concerns that this will be yet another student housing block.'

In April 2021, the developer submitted an application to demolish the building, however a decision has yet to be made by the council.

An exhibition of the new plans will be on display at the main entrance of the former department store on Thursday, December 15 from 11am to 6pm. An online consultation will run until early January.