Portsmouth – A City Divided by Council Priorities?

Katie Roberts asks some searching questions about the development of the wealthier southern parts of Portsmouth at the expense of the poorer north.

These days the coast of Portsmouth is characterised as the smart shops and eateries of Gunwharf Quays and the fancy glass Sky Deck of the Spinnaker Tower. Southsea is home to the city’s growing population of hipster cafes, independent breweries and eateries, while investment hits the seafront in the form of the Hotwalls Studios, a growing number of festivals and a healthy summertime events programme.

But the same can’t be said for areas like Buckland, North End or Paulsgrove, areas better known for graffiti-caked, derelict buildings, empty shops and dying high streets. This poses a question: have the policies of Portsmouth City Council encouraged a disparity between the north and south of our city?

Although Portsmouth has enjoyed a spike in tourism over the last couple of years, this revenue hasn’t been distributed evenly. The 2015 Indices of Deprivation Report for Hampshire found that the most deprived wards are in, and on the periphery of, the north of Portsmouth.

Last year Southsea hosted the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series at a cost to council tax payers of £1.4 million. With tickets costing between £25 and £595, the event was criticised for being accessible only to middle-class residents, most of whom live in the more affluent southern parts of the city. PCC defended the event, claiming it generated £9 million of ‘economic benefit’. Conservative councillor Linda Symes, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, claimed the America’s Cup ‘put Portsmouth on the map…attracted inward investment and boosted visitor numbers, [and] the local economy has benefited to the tune of millions of pounds.’

When Portsmouth resident Sameen Farouk made a Freedom of Information request to obtain evidence of these economic benefits, PCC’s response was: ‘Portsmouth City Council does not hold this information.’ This may be a sensitive matter for the Tories because councillor Scott Harris then decided to hatch a smear plot against Farouk simply for being curious about how local politicians spend our money.

But even if we take Symes at face value, can we be sure that any money made by the event will be re-invested in the north of Portsmouth rather than the south? Shortly before they gifted this cash to the America’s Cup, PCC slashed £13 million of vital services such as adult social care and dial-a-ride, which were badly needed by the poorest people, most of whom live in the north of our city. Just £500,000 has been spent by PCC on improving North End in the past five years, most of the money having gone on improving façades, widening pavements and increasing the number of parking spaces.

In 2008, PCC withdrew its funding of Hilsea Lido, an outdoor, family swimming pool that was opened in 1935. A community group has since taken over the operation, running it as a registered charity named Hilsea Lido Pool for the People Trust. The upkeep and maintenance of the lido depends entirely on grants and donations.

Helen Downing-Emms, Vice Chair of Hilsea Lido for the People Trust, told me her group ‘had worked hard to try to convince PCC of the importance of this facility for the city – most especially for the people living in the north of Portsmouth, some of whom never visit Southsea and therefore gain no direct benefit from the facilities on offer for locals and tourists visiting the city.’

She added, ‘We are a city with large clusters of deprivation and social isolation, with all the health problems related to these issues. Hilsea Lido is keen to promote watersports and to encourage every resident to learn to swim. It’s an ideal venue to support activity, fun, friendship and a healthy lifestyle. ‘

PCC’s decision to abandon the lido was disheartening for locals, but thanks to the altruism of Helen and her colleagues, the community is still able to enjoy it.

By contrast, the Pyramids, a swimming pool in Southsea run by the private company BH Live, receives constant subventions from PCC, including close to £1m to restore it after severe flooding in 2014.

PCC have prioritised capital investment in an already prosperous part of town over the quality of life of its deprived residents elsewhere. This puts to shame their commitment to be working on behalf of all the people of Portsmouth, not just the better-off ones by the seaside.

To appreciate this disturbing polarity in Portsmouth, we should think about how different a day out at the America’s Cup is to a day out at Hilsea Lido. The former involves the well-to-do sipping Prosecco, wearing bow-ties and clapping the catamarans drifting past. The latter involves the not-very-well-to-do making the most of limited facilities – and fighting hard to hang on to them.

Image by Sarah Cheverton.


  1. The demographic split in Portsmouth is East/West and not north/south.

    There was a one off cost to the council of 200k to host the Americas Cup last year. It will be less this. The economic benefit goes to individual businesses and residents, not the council, so there is no windfall to be spent on public buildings. Meanwhile Cosham and North End have had more spent on them than Fratton or the city centre.

    The whole premise of the article is that it’s unfair that money is being showered on the south of Portsmouth, but it isn’t true.

    The council is trying to maximise the value of what we’ve already got and trying to secure investment from the private sector and central government. Many of those assets are in Old Portsmouth and parts of Southsea. They can’t be moved and the alternative to investment there is no investment at all.

    • Luke it is quite logical that funding is available to the south of city -its seafront and visitor demographic mean that funders and tourists will always prefer it which is why more businesses and households locate her if they can – you and I do, don’t we because we can.. and its nice to live beside the seaside. Think the point of the article is that there is an inequality which the city is not addressing and yes it is your/our job as public servants, not local celebrities to spread the benefit from area funding and sponsorship opportunities to the whole of the city and to regenerate areas of need. This should be the legacy of all the SRB and the work to compensate working families for the diminished shipbuilding industry. The Portsmouth Pound and keeping that Pound in the city has never been more relevant, hence all your major investment should be devoted to it rather than outside investments…we get the city we deserve and we thank all of you for the efforts you all make to preserve it and all the people in it!

  2. Fighting hard to hang on indeed. I went to Hilsea Lido all summer for the last two years. This year they haven’t even been able to open due to a shortage of lifeguards. Hilsea Lido is literally the only thing I look forward to in the summer, and there’s not even that this year.

    Portsmouth North is a living space. Nothing more. We’re not desirable enough to be improved upon. And we are definitely not what people think of when they come to Portsmouth.

  3. The analysis by KPMG shows a much smaller impact on the local economy. It was buried in a report about BAR HQ and requires a careful read to understand.

    The council has since disclosed all of the feedback that it has received about th America’s Cup. I didn’t disclose the ‘mountains of praise’ which councillors were referring to.

    The disclosures simply underlines the point made to councillors that this should have undergone scrutiny by select committee. A point i have made consistently for a year.

Comments are closed.