Local News for Local People

I wrote this on impulse, then decided on mature reflection that I shouldn't post it. But here it is anyway.
I don't often read the local newspaper. It's shallow, prejudiced, lying and vacillating, but above all crushingly dull.

However, one story caught my eye today. The council is planning to bulldoze the local shopping centre, and on the site build...a shopping centre. Nowhere in the three pages on the story does the paper glimpse the irony of this.

I've lost count of how many times Portsmouth has gone through projects of 'economic development' and 'cultural rejuvenation'.

There was the Millenium Tower - a giant purposeless spike in the harbour, designed to attract tourists. The idea was that people would pay to travel up in the lift, look down on the city, and then go straight down again because there was exactly nothing else to do up there.

When the tower was completed, five years too late and three times overbudget, no one was entirely surprised that the elevator didn't work. Or that the contractor had used substandard cement, meaning the structure was cracking before it was even complete.

At some point, I expect a chunk will fall off. Onto the shops and tourists directly underneath.

The shops in question are in Gunwharf - another attempt at getting the local economy moving. Luxury flats, a cinema, pubs, nightclubs and shops. Most of the flats are empty because almost no one can afford to rent them, and the other amenities are likewise too expensive to use often.

Here the idea was apparantly to create jobs for local people. In fact, one was created - the night watchman. Everyone else working there was bought in from outside.

I was involved in one small 'cultural rujuvenation' project myself - when I co-managed an art gallery. The woman in charge of a different cultural project (evening classes in crystals and aromatherapy) got in a huff when we wouldn't let her take us over, so pulled some strings to get us closed down. Then she went bankrupt.

Every so often an entrepreneur notices that Portsmouth is a student town without much for students to do, and invests in a live music venue or something similar. And becomes the latest to discover that students don't have much disposable income to fleece.

However, the prevailing wisdom is that my home town can only be turned into a decent place to live by Building More Shops. There's the Cascades Centre, the Bridge Centre and one or two others - indoor multiplexes with white walls, floors and ceilings, and row upon row of neon fronted, generally empty retail outlets.

Of course, the actual number of shops doesn't go up by much - the new ones in multiplexes force the old ones in the street out of business.

There was a plan, after the failure of Gunwharf, to build Gunwharf Stage Two - on the grounds that a failing stratgy will start to succeed if you try it enough times. One small problem with Stage Two was the lack of anywhere to build it, so I think it's still on the drawing board.

But now someone has solved the problem of space. If you have nowhere to build your new shopping precinct, what better than to knock down the old one, and use the site. Place the existing 70 shops under Compulsory Purchase Orders, knock them down, triple the land rent, and wait eagerly for new businesses to appear from thin air.

In practice of course, the new businesses would be those from the old ones who can afford the new rent.

We have a phrase around here - NFP. Normal For Portsmouth.

1 comment:

  1. I've said it before, and I'll doubtless say it again: You can write. If you loose the first paragraph you'd probably get this published in said local rag. Ultimately even more ironic than the new shopping centre story. And you'd get wonga to boot. How's that for job creation?