AN independent candidate seeking to become the next MP for South Shields has questioned the logic of a decade-long £100m regeneration of the town centre.
Lisa Nightingale believes investment should go towards reviving the King Street shopping area, rather than creating a new library and media hub – work on which has just started as part of the council’s ‘365’ masterplan.
She has also criticised town centre parking charges and took a swipe at Labour candidate Emma Lewell-Buck, claiming she had failed to intervene on “issues that matter locally” in her two years as MP.
In response, Mrs Lewell-Buck – who believes government-set business rates are the main threat to town centre retailers – refused to be drawn into a row and said Miss Nightingale should “present her own polices rather than attack others”.
Earlier this week, Mrs Lewell-Buck admitted that Labour could no longer regard South Shields as a safe seat.
Miss Nightingale said: “The reason Labour can no longer take the constituency of South Shields as a safe seat is because people are starting to wake up to realise that for too long they have taken people’s votes for granted. We have a council which has chosen – despite King Street crying out for more shops – to concentrate on building a library.
Where has the MP been on the issues that matter locally? Why has she not asked questions of those making the decisions or held them to account?
“Surely the focus should be on building up the town centre to bring more businesses into the area.
“Why are they also so adamant on keeping the parking charges which are driving people away from the town centre?”
She added: “I can also remember a time when, during the winter months, car parking was free along the seafront and tickets were also transferable.
“Where has the MP been on the issues that matter locally? Why has she not asked questions of those making the decisions or held them to account?”
Mrs Lewell-Buck, who carried out her own survey of traders in King Street, told the Gazette earlier this week that business rates were the real danger to the retail vitality of the town centre.
She said: “I’m trying constantly to get rid of the misconception people have that these shops are leaving because of the council.
“These shops are leaving because the business rates set by central government, are too high.
“That’s what shopkeepers have said to me and the Government is not prepared to do anything about it.
“The business rates haven’t been reviewed since before the financial crash and the Government was supposed to review them, but it has just delayed and delayed it.”
The other candidates in South Shields are: Robert Oliver (Conservative), Gita Gordon (Liberal Democrat), Norman Dennis (UKIP), Shirley Ford (Green Party) .