Uniquely Portsmouth, Tricorn Books, Published 2018 Unique in that it is the only island city in the United Kingdom, Portsmouth lies about 60 miles south of London on the south coast. The island, commonly known as Portsea Island, covers an area of about fifteen and a half square miles or 40.25 square kilometres or around five and a half thousand football pitches, roughly 22% of which is green space*. With a population of just over 200,000 this makes it the most densely populated city in the UK outside of London. Despite that, it certainly doesn’t feel so. Maybe because you are never more that 3km from the coast, with its big sky, clear horizons and iridescent light. The relatively few high-rise buildings in the city also helps to create a feeling of openness and space.
With 25.34km of coastline, the Island of Portsea is separated from mainland UK and greater Portsmouth by Portsbridge Creek to the north, Portsmouth Harbour to the west and Langstone Harbour to the east; it has three road bridges and one rail bridge providing access.
Being so well positioned by the sea, it is no wonder that Portsmouth has a long history of ships, sailing and HM Royal Navy, one that has had a profound and lasting effect on the culture, economics, character and heritage of the city. But, why did the navy move and then stay here in the first place? What made Portsmouth so attractive to the strategists and planners who made those decisions? Those answers are found in its landscape, topography and location, and together with its heritage and people, go towards making Portsmouth what it is today.
As the 20th century progressed and Britain passed by way of two world wars from the noon to the twilight of her dominance the city’s total reliance on the dockyard would begin to wane. Along with other previously industrial cities, Portsmouth had to adapt to the changing face of the British economy and its requirements in the 20th century. In common with any sizeable town in the country the forces of technological and social progress would drive unprecedented change.
The growth of suburbanisation, the emergence of a patchwork of service, light industrial and office employment and of multiple chain retailers would all make their mark, and in the process diminish, but not eliminate, Portsmouth’s, distinctive sense of place.
Despite these changes the city has retained a significant degree of continuity, primarily through its connection with the sea. It remains the ‘home’ of the Royal Navy, and its naval dockyards are still inherent to the make up of the city, just now in a different way. Their redevelopment as a major national and international tourist attraction in the 1980s is ongoing, and continues to be particularly successful. Gunwharf Quays and the Spinnaker Tower, other high profile tourist attractions are fine examples of the successful redevelopment of redundant naval sites and have opened a new chapter in the economy and life of the city.
The city council estimating £1bn of investment will come to Portsmouth over the next 20 years through its regeneration programmes that include: the city centre, the Hard, Camber, Fratton Park, Tipner, Cosham, Southsea and the arts. With tourism now one of the fastest growing sectors of the local economy, the future of the city looks bright.