by Jonathan Morris
BBC News South West
Millbay is the first glimpse of Plymouth for overseas travellers
Millbay is the first thing people from the Continent see of Plymouth as they arrive at the city's ferry port, and it is far from welcoming.
Fractured old buildings stand hollow
and forbidding on the dockside and a sense of urban deprivation is overwhelming in the area where prostitutes roam.
Redeveloping this area has been mooted for years, but now the ideas could be turned into reality, with outline planning permission applied for this month.
Violet Bullen, who owns the Millbay Cafe off Millbay Road, says it is about time.
As Mrs Bullen pours another cup of tea for her customers, she talks ruefully about false starts for redeveloping the area, including one plan for three huge skyscrapers.
"They've been talking about it for the past 12 years," she said.
"There have been so many false starts, I'll believe it when I see it.
"But I'll be glad when they do, it's such an eyesore."
Now, after four and a half years preparation, the English Cities Fund (ECF), a consortium of developers Amec, pensions giant Legal and General and government regeneration agency English Partnerships is forging ahead.
The planning application came weeks before the opening of a £200m shopping mall Drake Circus in the city centre on Thursday, and both are expected to be a major filip to the city.
If all goes according to plan, it could be built in the next 8-10 years, says Chris Read, ECF development director.
"It is achievable and deliverable," he said.
"We believe that Millbay will work in synergy with Drake Circus and the expansion of the university.
"All these things cement the idea that Plymouth is a place that is going somewhere."
Mr Read said the final bill for the scheme would be about £300m.
"The balance of the cost has not yet been decided, but the majority will be borne by the private sector," he said.
The planning application for Millbay is the latest part of the so-called "Mackay Vision", a blueprint by architect David Mackay for the future of Plymouth, which included the new Drake Circus shopping mall.
The plans - touted by the developers as "the most spectacular harbourside development in Britain" - will include 1,200 flats and houses, shops, bars, cafes and a 25m-wide boulevard from the city centre.
Building has already started on the first phase, which already has planning permission, and includes 134 houses and flats, a quarter of which will be either for rent or shared ownership.
An artist's impression shows an 18-storey sail-shaped tower block in Clyde Quay, but Mr Read pointed out that the impression was "indicative".
"It will be an iconic building, although there has been a huge amount of favourable comment about the drawings," he said.
Local people who viewed the Millbay plans at a special exhibition were generally welcoming, say the developers.
However, there have been concerns among local people about the Pavilions ice rink and swimming pool in the centre of town, which will be demolished to make way for the boulevard. The Pavilions conference centre and arts venue will remain.
A Plymouth City Council spokeswoman said there were plans for a new ice rink and an Olympic-size swimming pool in nearby Central Park as part of a new £54m leisure centre.
The council's £25m application to the National Lottery for the so-called Life Centre was rejected in August.
But council leader Tudor Evans told a meeting of the full council in September that the authority was still pursuing the Life Centre project.