Hot Spot: Portsmouth

The Navy is moving out of Portsmouth - which means the developers are moving in to its historical docklands
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The Independent Online

Today, as much as ever in its long history, war and military considerations are moulding Portsmouth. Fifty years ago, massiverebuilding of this ancient naval city was necessitated by Hitler - and now a new phase has started, thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev.

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 aNavy which can ship out many of its units and facilities for good. Following on from the devastation of the Second World War, thebenign 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 residentialdevelopment and haven for shoppers, diners, drinkers and sightseers. The UK's Berkeley Homes is regenerating the site withLordland, 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 abustling 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 setback from the waterfront, and are further from the train station. With its shopping and restaurants, plus other leisure and entertainmentfacilities, 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 asother desirable locations, whether on the sea, the harbour, or inland. Three-storey townhouses with roof terraces in Old Portsmouthhave price tags north of £250,000, but attractive houses and flats are available for a fraction of that amount. Fox & Sons isselling a two-bedroom top-floor conversion in a four-storey period house in Southsea for less than £40,000, and aone-bedroom maisonette in a purpose-built modern block in Old Portsmouth is listed at £52,950. Also available are modestlypriced 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 serveGosport, the Isle of Wight, Hayling Island, and destinations in France, Spain and the Channel Islands. Southampton Internationalairport is 25 miles, Gatwick is 56.

Prices and properties: At Gunwharf Quays, one-bedroom flats are from £90,000, four-bedroom townhouses from £250,000. Some flats have roof terraces, and some penthouses are circular. Eastney Barracks flats start at £144,950. Also inEastney, 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 feetand a price tag of £22m. The city's harbour regeneration scheme will cost £86m. Luckily, the city has been awarded£25m from the Single Regeneration Budget round five - the biggest share in the south-east region's £70m allocation.

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

Going down to the sea: the Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Royal Naval Museum, the Royal Armouries, and theSubmarine 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 andgolf.

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

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