Portsmouth is a Divided City, But Not in the Way You Think

Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Luke Stubbs, explains why he believes Portsmouth’s social divisions are between the east and west – rather than the north and south – of the city.

In politics at least, much is made of Portsmouth’s north/south divide. Voting patterns differ in the two halves of the city and there is a widely held view that council funding patterns are skewed as a result (although I contend that they are not).

In Katie Roberts’ recent article for S&C, she highlighted differing levels of investment in the Americas Cup and Hilsea Lido to illustrate this view. There was a one off cost to the council of £200k to host the Americas Cup last year. It will be less this year. The economic benefit goes to individual businesses and residents, not to 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.

In this article I am going to argue that there is a divide in the city, both economically and socially, but it runs east/west.

Of course this is not to deny that there are some things that really do break down on north/south lines: tourist attractions and students are largely in the south for example, but the deeper geographic divisions run elsewhere.

The East/West split

Portsmouth grew out of Old Portsmouth and Landport and gradually expanded eastwards, southwards and northwards.

The Victorian core of the city is overwhelming on the west of Portsea Island. An 1893 map of Portsea Island shows most of the urban area west of the railway line at Fratton already built up, with housing reaching up into North End. While there were odd streets elsewhere, particularly around Copnor/Milton Road, development on the west of the island as a whole was sparse. That changed in early 20th century and by the 1930s Portsmouth was largely complete. Paulsgrove was added after the Second World War and some areas of reclaimed land, particularly around Milton Common, were being developed into the 1970s.

The west of the city is not only older, but it is poorer, less healthy and with higher levels of crime. Some of this reflects the age of the housing stock and some is just chance, but it is a pattern that is repeatedly borne out.

Four of Portsmouth’s council wards are generally classified as deprived – Charles Dickens, Fratton, Nelson and Paulsgrove: all are in the west. Collectively they have much lower voter turnout levels, much higher levels of childhood poverty, unemployment and so forth. Of course council wards are rather large and are a crude way of lumping together separate communities: after all Somerstown and Old Portsmouth are both in the same ward and yet are very different places.

Fortunately the Office for National Statistics publishes many of its neighbourhood statistics to a much finer grain, known in government jargon as Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs). There are over 100 of these in Portsmouth alone.

Let’s look at some of this data to see whether there a split between east and west and if so, how strong it is.

Index of multiple deprivation

The first statistic to look at is also the most important. The Index of Multiple Deprivation is an amalgam of data covering seven important topics:

  • Income
  • Employment
  • Health deprivation and disability
  • Education, skills and training
  • Barriers to housing and services
  • Crime
  • Living environment

The details of the measures are unimportant. As this index is calculated across the whole country, it necessarily is based on things that are easy to calculate and that does give rise to some distortions. Still it is the best that we’ve got.

The Super Output Area figures are based on ranking across the country. The important thing to remember is that the deep red areas are in the 10% of worst performing localities in England, the orange ones the next 10% and so forth, until the green areas reflect the 10% best performing localities in England.

Figure 1 - The scale for the maps [Source: Office of National Statistics, Indices of Multiple Deprivation]
Figure 1 – The scale for the maps [Source: Office of National Statistics, Indices of Multiple Deprivation (ONS,IMD)]
Here’s how the city looks on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation as a whole.

Figure 2. Index of Multiple Deprivation for Portsmouth [Source: ONS, IMD]
Figure 2. Index of Multiple Deprivation for Portsmouth [Source: ONS, IMD]
As you can see, with exceptions at Port Solent and Old Portsmouth, the west of the city is pink to dark red, whereas the east is mostly – but not entirely – green, blue or yellow.

So the west is significantly more deprived than the national average whereas the east is around the average or better.

(There are a few large pink areas in the east, but they are large because they include parks and industrial areas, not because they have larger populations.)

Digging a little deeper, the next three maps break out three of the components of the above map: income deprivation, health outcomes and crime.

While the patterns are broadly similar, each has some interesting features.

However the east/west split is visible on all the maps.


Figure 3. Income [Source: ONS, IMD]
The income map shows broadly national average and above incomes stretching across Southsea, while the poorer area still takes in western parts of Hilsea and the Wymering/Isle of Wight Estate in Cosham.


Figure 4. Health [Source: ONS, IMD]
Figure 4. Health [Source: ONS, IMD]
The pattern for health outcomes is broken by some below average results for some of the areas around Milton Common. The council collects Public Health data based on a three slice split of the city – North, Central and South, defined mostly to minimise travelling distances and the central zone always sees far greater health problems than elsewhere. Perhaps the starkest statistic of all is that male life expectancy in Charles Dickens ward is a full ten years less than in Drayton and Farlington.


Figure 5. Crime [Source: ONS, IMD]
Figure 5. Crime [Source: ONS, IMD]
The final map is the crime map. As much crime involves commercial premises and late night trading, these figures are distorted by the location of businesses. The pink areas on the east for example are around Ocean Park, with another towards Fratton business centre.

Social housing

One final piece in the jigsaw: housing tenure. The table below shows the proportion of either council or housing association property by ward. The seven highest values are highlighted – and they are all to the left of the green line below.

It really is possible to prove anything with statistics: a map of the private rental market would give a very different impression for example. However in my view the social housing map does matter.

Ward Social Housing Private Rent
Baffins 9.7% 12.6%
Central Southsea 4.3% 48.2%
Charles Dickens 65.7% 13.2%
Copnor 2.8% 15.2%
Cosham 21.4% 10.2%
Drayton and Farlington 2.9% 8.3%
Eastney and Craneswater 5.4% 39.5%
Fratton 10.0% 32.9%
Hilsea 13.8% 14.5%
Milton – Portsmouth 7.4% 23.7%
Nelson 19.3% 22.7%
Paulsgrove 34.9% 10.0%
St. Jude 6.6% 45.6%
St. Thomas 28.5% 36.7%

There is a big overlap between social housing and deprivation, poor health and so forth. There is an east/west divide and the age of the housing stock combined with the location of social housing goes a long way to explaining why it exists.

Figure 6. The East West divide in the city
Figure 6. The East West divide in the city [Source: GoogleMaps]
Main image: Diego Torres.