What it’s like to live in Portsmouth and Southsea
PUBLISHED: 14:37 10 January 2017
Fry & Kent
Portsmouth and Southsea offer good value and a lively location for a home, says Emma Caulton
Is Portsmouth a property hot spot? The jury is out. As the country’s only island city, its location is both an advantage and a hindrance. Accessed via just three main roads, traffic congestion at these bottlenecks is inevitable. And, probably because it is surrounded by water and unable to expand, Portsmouth tops the table for area of highest population density outside London.
Yet this is also a sociable, vibrant city that makes the most of its waterside setting. It feels individual. Special. Perhaps because it is adrift from mainland Hampshire.
Portsmouth is a port city. It has been a naval base since 1194 and is still the Royal Navy’s biggest dockyard, although nowadays visitors are as likely to come for the shopping as the shipping. For Portsmouth has undergone a renaissance. It started with the transformation of a complex of former Navy buildings into Gunwharf Quays, a harbourside, top-end outlet shopping centre with brands like Armani and Bose, and cafes, bars and restaurants spilling out across squares and terraces. It continued with the construction of the iconic 170-metre high Spinnaker Tower on the waterfront, which quickly become a symbol for the city (on a clear day the view from the top is breath-taking). More recently Sir Ben Ainslie set up his cutting-edge Land Rover BAR HQ in Old Portsmouth. It is yet another distinctive structure, but this city is very good at making bold architectural statements and juxtaposing contemporary against classic.
In contrast, its ‘suburb’, Southsea, developed as a Victorian resort. Its seafront is a huge asset: over four miles long and backed by Southsea Common which stretches for over a mile-and-a-half between the two piers - South Parade and Clarence. Both seafront and Common are well used for dog walking, family games, fitness classes and park runs.
As for shopping, Southsea is known for its quirky, quality independents. Streets such as Marmion Road and Albert Road bustle with interior and fashion boutiques, antiques, vintage and retro shops, trendy bars and cafes. Indeed there’s a foodie vibe to the area. A few favourites include Abarbistro, Pie & Vinyl (mixing live music, record collecting and great grub), Southsea Coffee Company with tasty veggie dishes, Canvas Coffee (social enterprise initiative at Portsmouth and Southsea station) and Huis, a new Belgian Bar and Kitchen. This range reflects Portsmouth and Southsea’s buzzy, cosmopolitan atmosphere.
As does the University. Earlier this year, Portsmouth was named cheapest university city in England for students. The University is certainly popular. That may also be due to having Sandi Toksvig as Chancellor (how cool is that?), being judged ‘outstanding’ for its art, design and media provision, and its high profile (if slightly alternative) alumni such as Simon Armitage, Ben Fogle and Grayson Perry.
This is a city with cultural collateral. It is awash with heritage: forts, castles and museums are tributes to our glorious naval past, among them Southsea Castle, D-Day Museum and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - home to Tudor warship the Mary Rose and Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. However, the city is also responsible for some literary greats. This is the birthplace of Charles Dickens. Arthur Conan Doyle is thought to have created Sherlock Holmes here. HG Wells once worked in a Southsea shop, the inspiration for Kipps. Neville Shute wrote prolifically here and Rudyard Kipling’s experiences growing up in Southsea are said to have given him his ‘voice’. Another familiar name includes actor and comedian Peter Sellers. It is said that he made his first stage appearance at two days’ old at the King’s Theatre – a much loved Edwardian venue at the heart of Southsea that was recently restored.
Other entertainment venues include New Theatre Royal, The Guildhall and Wedgewood Rooms, between them offering performances from Shakespeare to stand-up, emerging music to established legends. The arts scene is also well served by Aspex Art Gallery; its participation programme is considered one of the best in the country.
There’s a 14-screen cinema and bowling alley at Gunwharf Quays, the Pyramids Centre combines pools of splashing good fun with gyms for serious work-outs, and seaside attractions include the Blue Reef Aquarium. Meanwhile a hectic events calendar lists The Great South Run, which has been held in Portsmouth for 25 years, Victorious, a family-friendly music festival held over August bank holiday weekend, and for the past couple of years the America’s Cup World Series sailing.
Portsmouth appeals to singles, young couples and families and they’re encouraged by good value property. Swanky apartments in Gunwharf Quays and elegant Edwardian townhouses on leafy Southsea streets can be found for about £325,00-£350,00 (more or less). And with comparatively low prices and high yields, Portsmouth has featured in top ten listings for places worth investing.
Families should consider school catchment areas. Ofsted delivers a mixed report, although many are rated ‘good’ at every level. One or two receive the ‘outstanding’ accolade, such as St Edmund’s Catholic School. Portsmouth is also recognised for its excellent independent school provision – including Portsmouth Grammar School and Portsmouth High School.
So, is Portsmouth a property hot spot? It certainly feels fresh and exciting, with a great lifestyle, a sense of opportunity and a strong community that’s more than evident in the determined support for the local football team.
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