High Streets are trending on the Twitter feeds of Portsmouth’s Conservative leadership at the moment, with the leader of the city council Donna Jones and Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt both championing the plight of shopkeepers in North End. And let’s make no mistake, those businesses need a champion – times are tough and our high streets are shadows of their former selves.
The latest high-profile casualty in North End is the Co-op store. This large convenience store, which had its own dedicated car park, raises some awkward questions about the story our politicians are telling us about the problem though. They tell us the problem is about the availability of parking and trumpet their efforts to squeeze more spaces on to the street. If that is the case then what has gone wrong for the Co-op, a shop with it’s own car park?
The declining fortunes of our high streets were studied by councillors on the Economic Development, Culture and Leisure Scrutiny Panel earlier this year. Portsmouth Cycle Forum gave evidence to that panel and a report was approved on the 18 March. The report is available here and we wish that Cllr Jones and Penny Mordaunt MP would read it before they act further.
The problem on our high streets, especially Fratton / Kingston / London Road, is that they are trying to be too many things:
- They are trying to be major distributor roads, carrying people and goods in and out of the city – Fratton / Kingston / London Road is also the A2047 and one of the major North-South roads on the island.
- They are trying to be shopping streets, where people get out of their cars to buy things.
- They are trying to be streets where people live, eat and relax.
- They are trying to be car parks with on-street parking right outside every business.
They cannot be all these things and the consequence is that they have become the most people-unfriendly places imaginable. They are highly polluted. The traffic is hellish. Parking is impossible. The A2047 has more casualties along it than any other road in the city and is amongst the most dangerous stretches of road in Britain.
The result is that people don’t want to spend any more time than they have to in these places. People may stop outside a particular business, run-in for what they came for and get out as fast as possible but that’s hardly a model for economic growth. These streets need to be turned into places people want to visit.
The politician’s rhetoric, that squashing in more parking will make everything better, is positively dangerous. Squashing in more parking will just make things worse. Traffic a bit more squeezed, roads a bit narrower, the air a bit dirtier. A few more pedestrians and cyclists will be injured (or worse), a few more local children will develop asthma and the benefit to businesses will be negligible or nonexistent. Businesses will still close down and politicians will wring their hands and say “we did our best”.
Our politicians are currently presiding over a policy of danger and decay on London Road and our other high streets. It’s time they took some real positive action to address it. It’s time to transform our high streets into places people want to visit. It’s time for A City to Share.