Property: Hot Spot - Portsmouth: Harbour-side naval gazing

The Navy is moving out of Portsmouth - which means the developers are moving in to its historical docklands
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Today, as much as ever in its long history, war and military considerations are moulding Portsmouth. Fifty years ago, massive rebuilding of this ancient naval city was necessitated by Hitler - and now a new phase has started, thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev.

After 1945, the rubble left behind by the Luftwaffe paved the way for extensive modern residential housebuilding by the council and private developers. As the new millennium approaches, the landscape of this historically rich Hampshire city is being altered by a Navy which can ship out many of its units and facilities for good. Following on from the devastation of the Second World War, the benign consequences of the ending of the Cold War are now propelling Portsmouth's progress.

A harbinger of luxurious things to come is Gunwharf Quays, a redundant naval site which is soon to become a massive residential development and haven for shoppers, diners, drinkers and sightseers. The UK's Berkeley Homes is regenerating the site with Lordland, a Cape Town-based developer with a successful track record in mixed-use harbourside refurbishment.

The 33 acres of the former ammunition depot will provide room for 311 residential units in more than 10 buildings, including newbuilds.

Adjacent to the residential enclave will be a shopping centre featuring 85 factory outlets, numerous bars and restaurants, two hotels, a multi- screen cinema, a bowling alley and an outdoor amphitheatre.

The location is as convenient as it is stunning, situated next to the harbour mainline rail station and ferry docks, and overlooking a bustling harbour. Ferries, private pleasure craft, cruise ships, freighters, tugboats and, peace dividend notwithstanding, naval ships provide a constantly changing panorama. The developer says that boat movements average 1,400 weekly.

Gunwharf Quays stands alongside recently built homes but, notes David Atkinson of Fox & Sons estate agents, "the others are set back from the waterfront, and are further from the train station. With its shopping and restaurants, plus other leisure and entertainment facilities, Gunwharf Quays is offering a lifestyle."

Despite the Luftwaffe's attentions, Portsmouth has a rich array of period as well as modern housing in Old Portsmouth, as well as other desirable locations, whether on the sea, the harbour, or inland. Three-storey townhouses with roof terraces in Old Portsmouth have price tags north of pounds 250,000, but attractive houses and flats are available for a fraction of that amount. Fox & Sons is selling a two-bedroom top-floor conversion in a four-storey period house in Southsea for less than pounds 40,000, and a one-bedroom maisonette in a purpose-built modern block in Old Portsmouth is listed at pounds 52,950. Also available are modestly priced newbuilds by Barratt across the harbour in Gosport, and by Persimmon down the road in Port Solent.

In Southsea, Redrow has a few two-bedroom flats in Parade View Mansions, a name which is as literal and historic as it is nostalgic. Soldiers and sailors had to live somewhere: this site used to be the Royal Marines' Eastney Barracks.

The Low-Down

Transport: Trains to London Waterloo are frequent and, at 75 minutes, fast. The mainline station is on the water's edge. Ferries serve Gosport, the Isle of Wight, Hayling Island, and destinations in France, Spain and the Channel Islands. Southampton International airport is 25 miles, Gatwick is 56.

Prices and properties: At Gunwharf Quays, one-bedroom flats are from pounds 90,000, four-bedroom townhouses from pounds 250,000. Some flats have roof terraces, and some penthouses are circular. Eastney Barracks flats start at pounds 144,950. Also in Eastney, Bellway Homes' Cumberland Gate has two- and three- bedroom flats, and three- and four-bedroom houses.

Spinnaker Tower: Portsmouth is welcoming the Millennium by building a 500-foot sail-shaped tower, with a viewing deck at 350 feet and a price tag of pounds 22m. The city's harbour regeneration scheme will cost pounds 86m. Luckily, the city has been awarded pounds 25m from the Single Regeneration Budget round five - the biggest share in the south-east region's pounds 70m allocation.

Vital statistics: About 185,000 people live in Portsmouth's 14 square miles, and about 14,000 of them are university students. Council tax ranges from pounds 454 in Band A to pounds 1,363 in Band H; Band D is pounds 682. According to Homesight (www.homesight. co.uk) the 1988-89 increase was eight per cent. Relevant websites include http://www. portsmouthcc.gov.uk and http:// www.portsmouthharbour. co.uk

Mock Victorian: Instead of taking the direct, easy route to the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria used to bypass Portsmouth and schlep all the way to Gosport for the ferry.

This was because, before the harbour station was opened in 1876, train travellers wanting the ferry had to exit at the city-centre station. Local tradition has it that as the monarch made her way from the station, the locals laughed at her, says Sarah Quail, City Museums and Records Officer. "As a result, the Queen vowed never to darken Portsmouth's streets again."

Eventually, the extension of the rail line to the harbour enabled the Queen to bypass Portsmouth streets altogether, so she stopped darkening Gosport's door, too.

Going down to the sea: the Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Royal Naval Museum, the Royal Armouries, and the Submarine Museum are the main nautical attractions in a city whose bay also has the famous Spithead fortifications. For landlubbers, activities and attractions include the Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum, Portsmouth Football Club, greyhound racing, cricket and golf.

Contacts: Gunwharf Quays, 01705 851800; Fox & Sons, 02392 293100; Bushnell Porter, 02392 832828, Redrow 01705 818838.

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