MP Emma Lewell-Buck has called on the Government to cut business rates to give South Shields’ struggling shops a chance to survive.
The plight of her constituency’s beleaguered shopping centre was raised in Parliament last night in an adjournment debate with High Street minister Brandon Lewis.
The move came amid concern for the retail viability of the town centre, following the recent departure of such big-name outlets as Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.
To prepare for the debate, Mrs Lewell-Buck paid a fact-finding visit to King Street to find out what the main concerns of traders are.
She said that the clear message was an alarming decline in both income and customer numbers in the last two years – and the high cost of business rates.
She said: “Shops in King Street have reported that footfall is down in the last two or three years, at the same time as incomes are being squeezed and families have less money to spend.”
Last night, Ms Lewell-Buck called on the minister to take more action to cut business rates.
“One in 10 businesses now spends more on business rates than rent. Rates have risen by an average of £1,500 under the coalition.
“The Government also delayed the revaluation of business rates, which many firms have said means business owners in smaller towns are paying unfairly high levels compared to those in London and the South East.
“The Government relaxed planning rules in a way that has made it easier for betting shops and payday lenders to cluster on high streets, giving shoppers less incentive to visit.”
Away from the negative feedback, Mrs Lewell-Buck acknowledges there is hope on the horizon in the shape of the council’s ambitious ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan.
The £100m regeneration programme aims to transform the town centre over the next decade and more.
It is to start in the Market Place with the creation of a new town centre library and media hub, on the site of the former Wouldhave House.
Future developments will include a remodelled transport interchange, a new cinema and major retail outlets.