Published on Sunday, 19th February 2017


The News ran a front page article on the possible redevelopment of the city centre a couple of days ago and I want to expand on some of what it said and to provide some context on what is and what is not possible.


The Northern Quarter project has been getting nowhere fast for twenty years. While a huge new shopping centre would be a great addition to the city centre, changing retail patterns mean it is no longer realistic to expect anyone to sink hundreds of millions of pounds into building it. 


So instead we're now looking at a mixed use scheme comprising a lesser amount of retail, more leisure and hospitality uses, such as possibly a cinema and a cluster of restaurants and a significant amount of high-density housing: a figure of 2600 flats was suggested in the report, although may not be accurate.


The most significant barrier to making this a reality is transport and particularly the rerouting of southbound city centre traffic along the Dockyard wall, or perhaps through the Morrison's site. The new road would be expensive and is dependent on the government contributing two-thirds of the cost. There will be lots of funding streams to bid into - over multiple years if necessary - but if that money is not forthcoming then we have a problem.


Any scheme for that land has to make a profit for the developer (who already controls most of the land) or it will not happen, so talk of a huge leisure complex with no housing is unrealistic. It also has to fit with the government's aspirations if the bid for funding for the road is to succeed and they are clear that housing is what they want.


Continued population growth, national policy and the government's White Paper on housing are all conspiring to put pressure on the council over housing numbers anyway. Whether anyone likes it or not - and I don't - more housing is going to have to be provided in Portsmouth. It is better to meet this demand in the city centre than the alternative of the planning inspectorate declaring open season on the city's industrial land and green spaces - and that is what could happen. Moreover, the retail, leisure and office uses would boost the city and increase employment.


Infrastructure is rightly a concern. At this stage, it's just too early to say what would be provided. However, there would certainly have to be additional school places and parking would have to be provided. Local taxes on development should cover the cost of whatever is needed. As ever, the council cannot borrow money to build infrastructure as it would have no means of repaying the loan and that would not be legal. It would also not be the developer and would not own any of whatever is built.


Tags: Planning, City Centre