Councillor Steve Pitt, Deputy Leader of Portsmouth City Council, gives his latest update - July 2020
As Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Economic Development, the last few months have been a very busy time.
Our Parks team continue to do a fantastic job maintaining our open spaces and they thoroughly deserve all the messages of thanks sent in by local residents. Do look out for the stunning planting on Brian Kidd Way (the path leading to the Castle) and the rainbow tribute opposite D Day Story.
There were challenges dealing with the sudden explosion of footfall on the Seafront when restrictions eased and Colas, who maintain the beaches and promenade had to get people back from furlough quickly to respond. The vast amount of excess littering was depressing to see and angered many. We have now launched our Don’t be a Din, Put it in the Bin campaign to appeal to everyone to have a sense of civic pride. We will also be stepping up issuing fines for littering, cycling on the Prom and dogs on the (wrong bits) of the beach to ensure that everyone can use the Seafront and enjoy it. I am hoping we won't need to issue lots of tickets because it would be much better if everyone got on board and showed they love Portsmouth!
Working with our Cabinet Member for Environment & Climate Change, Cllr Dave Ashmore, we are awaiting 85 new bins for around the Seafront area which will enable plastic bottles and cans to be recycled and to swap some of the older small bins for newer and larger ones.
With so many people on furlough and so many children off school and the more regularly used spaces so busy, we have seen a lot of extra pressure on areas like Eastney point, Stamshaw shore, the Hard and Hilsea Lines. It has been heartening to see community groups (thank you!) stepping up to help keep these areas clean but nevertheless the amount of litter has also been upsetting. I am looking to overhaul how we care for these areas in future to make sure we can support the residents and users to improve them. More on this over the coming months.
Lots of residents have expressed concerns about anti-social behaviour and in response we have set up a new structure to operate on the Seafront, which includes Wardens, Community Advisors, Street Pastors and private security, who liaise directly with our local police teams. Around the city, Community Wardens respond to as many issues as they can but they cannot be everywhere and rely on effective reporting from residents so that they can work with police colleagues to target resources to where they are most needed.
Closing the Seafront roads has been a marmite issue but the feedback we have had still shows more people love the closures than hate them, which is just as well because the view of Public Health remains that the closures help with social distancing and as that was what government asked us to do to ensure we limit the spread of the virus, they will remain closed, for now.
That said, we also recognise the pressure this has placed on the roads behind the Seafront and have made minor adjustments to the closures to enable the Canoe Lake car park to reopen, access to the Blue Reef Aquarium and the option to open the overflow car park on Southsea Common if needed on a busy weekend. Worth noting that the entrance to the D Day car park is moving west to accommodate the arrival of the Landing Craft Tank which is due to take up residence under the new canopy in August.
Libraries begin to reopen this week. Central, Southsea and North End will be in the first phase with others to follow. Our staff have worked hard to prepare the buildings to be safe to welcome you back.
Just down the road in Southampton the Nuffield Theatres have gone into liquidation. We cannot allow the same thing to happen here and I will do everything I can to ensure that it doesn't. Government has now announced a welcome package of support and we now await the details to see how it will actually benefit our city. Congratulations to to Wedgewood Rooms and Guildhall Trust who were among the 600 venues across the country who lobbied for this support and we hope that our theatres and other cultural and heritage assets will benefit too.
Similarly, almost all of the country's leisure operators are in severe financial difficulties and without a rescue package, many local authorities will face massive bills to take over facilities currently run under contract. We are hoping that the government support announced last week may provide a route through but, as ever, the devil will be in the detail.
With the reopening of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants, the Economic Development, Traffic and Licensing teams have been flat out putting things in place to support them, just as they did with retail re-openings in June. They have been suspending parking spaces to widen the pavement space available, pointing operators to the government advice on being Covid Safe and preparing to fast track applications for Tables & Chairs licences if government legislation goes through as expected on 20th July. We must do all we can to help them survive whilst being alive to the need to limit any negative impact on local residents. Patience and tolerance will be needed from both sides and we will be there to help.
We have also begun work on ensuring the city has the best chance of economic recovery and I am working with the brilliant Shaping Portsmouth team, the NHS, the Uni and partners across the business sector to create real actions to support those who need help, whether businesses or individuals. This Future Together team are determined to see our city bounce back as fast as possible.
As part of this citywide effort, Portsmouth Creates are leading a working group to give a particular focus to supporting our cultural and creative industries and will be organising a craft Market on the ground floor of Debenhams in Southsea to ensure our makers have somewhere to trade. Announcements will follow.
Portsmouth has fared well so far during Covid-19. Sadly, over 100 local people have lost their lives and for the families and friends of the victims, this is an incredibly difficult time but we are 340th out of 350 areas in terms of infection rates and if the overwhelming majority of people follow the guidelines, we hope that it will stay that way. Remember, you cannot affect the behaviour of others but you can do a lot to keep yourself safe.
As restrictions continue to ease, we are beginning to consider how we best remember Covid-19 as a city and will be talking to you all when it feels like the right moment, about how we do that. However, for now, the virus is very much still with us and we must focus on stopping its spread.
Stay safe everyone, look out for each other, be tolerant of each other and try to enjoy the summer in our beautiful city.
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