THE leader of South Tyneside Council today pledged his commitment to “see the job through” for a £100m masterplan to regenerate South Shields town centre.
It was early last year that Labour’s Coun Iain Malcolm unveiled ‘South Shields 365’.
The aim was to transform the town over a 10-year period.
The first phase is well under way after the demolition of Wouldhave House in the Market Place – with work to start later this year on a new library and community hub on that site.
The second phase will see a new cinema and associated leisure and retail in Barrington Street, followed by creation of a transport hub in Keppel Street in 2015/16.
But the work doesn’t end there.
The third phase, in Fowler Street, will see a large new retail quarter within five to seven years.
It’s a hugely ambitious plan and today Coun Malcolm, along with David Cramond, the local authority’s director of economic regeneration, pledged to fully consult all businesses impacted by the changes, with a commitment to make every effort to relocate them in the town – or in the borough.
And it also emerged that front counter staff at the Post Office in Keppel Street are to be located to the new community hub in the Market Place, although the Royal Mail sorting staff will be at an alternative location.
Plans are also afoot for a new hotel and conference centre on the river front – with the current favoured site between the BT headquarters and the Customs House.
Coun Malcolm acknowledged the scale of the vision is so large the original estimate of £100m will almost inevitably rise.
He said: “When you consider Haven Point cost £18m and was one building, then I think we’ll end up looking for more funding to get it right through private support, through government grants and our own resources as a council.
“This project, as someone from South Shields, is simply too important not to get right.
“It is going to put South Shields and our borough not just on the regional, but on the national, map.
“It’s fair to say within 10 years people will see a new Barrington Street area with cinema and associated leisure and retail.
“They will see a new bus interchange, a transport hub for the town centre, a new library with an archive service and local history section.
“They will see new multi-storey car parks. They will then see the existing library brought down and at the river front, from the Customs House to where the Commercial pub was, a new office-civic quarter, with a hotel and associated conference facilities.
“In terms of regeneration there are some areas we will want to bring down. It’s inevitable and there will be whole sections of Fowler Street that we will bring down in order to redevelop for the future, and that’s not just one side. It will end up being both sides in the long term.
“There is still the expectation we will deliver a new hotel on the riverside and for the facility to have conferences for up to 500 people.
“We’re networking that alongside the Port of Tyne’s ambitious plans.
“In terms of negotiations, we’ve talked to all the businesses about how these plans will affect them.
“We want to re-locate where we can and realise many businesses will want to remain in the town centre, and we will do what we can on that.
“It won’t always be possible, but we will want to make sure that they continue to operate within South Tyneside as we’re very proud of those businesses, and many have been around for a considerable amount of time.
“No one needs to be in any doubt we’re absolutely determined, despite the spending savings we have had to make since May 2010, to see this job through.
“There’s going to be tough negotiations, but ultimately the end game is too important for South Tyneside. If we want a town centre worthy of the name, to attract big retailers and open up South Shields after five at night, we need to make big changes.”
Mr Cramond said: “If you look at the end game, what we’re trying to do here with a better offer, with more retail space, is to bring in more spend into the town centre. With a better offer, you’ll get more spend.
“Smaller retailers will want to move into King Street, where there will be more economic vitality as well as in the new centre.
“We are working on the acquisition of properties for all three phases at the same time. Those conversations go on.
“In terms of businesses affected by these plans, by the end of this month we will have contacted everybody affected by the first three stages of the scheme and will be having individual discussions explaining the scheme.
“We will work along with our economic development team and hopefully we can relocate them in the town centre.
“The rules dictate we must leave them in no worse a financial situation than they currently are. We value the businesses in South Shields and will do everything to ensure that the outcome is good for them.”
Coun Malcolm insisted “we have to fundamentally change the offer in South Shields town centre”.
He added: “A development on this scale will take something like 10 years to achieve, but 10 years in the scale of things is actually not a very long time when you consider some things that are happening in Newcastle/Gateshead – the Stephenson Quarter for example.
“That was in the development phase 15 years ago.
“These things in South Shields, we’re not talking about ‘pie in the sky’. We’re not talking about this as a talking shop, where there are endless discussions.
“This is a definitive plan starting with the library site at Wouldhave House in Barrington Street, which is why we bought the Gazette offices, followed by a transport hub at the Keppel Street site, where the post office is and Streamline garage, all that area will come down.
“We will then move on to the next stage, which is east Fowler Street and Winchester Street and the central library and the river front itself, from the Customs House, all the way along to the Port of Tyne.
“We have been buying properties and we have the initial ideas what we want and have got Muse developers in, who have a national reputation for doing town centre regeneration very successfully.
“You only have to go to Durham to see that.”
Muse is expected to unveil an “iconic” design for the new community hub this summer.