Calls for urgent review of bus services in South Shields as town centre businesses say they have taken a hit

Business owners on Market Place have called for an urgent review of bus services in South Shields before the town centre suffers more closures.

Businesses say they have seen a decrease in footfall since an overhaul of public transport services when the new transport interchange opened in August 2019.

Seven town centre bus stops - including five on East Street and two in Market Place - were lost when the bus routes were relocated as part of the council’s 365 Regeneration Scheme.

A petition - signed by more than 1,700 people - has called on leaders to review bus services as it is now ‘more challenging’ for elderly residents and those with mobility issues to travel into the town centre.

Market Place, South Shields.

Owner of Market Place shop Knit and Purl, Jacqueline Brown, who launched the petition, is among those who say their business has been hit by the changes.

“Everybody is losing so much trade,” she said.

“Companies are not going to keep throwing money at a non-profit making business.”

At a meeting attended by businesses, council leaders, MP Emma Lewell-Buck and representatives from Stagecoach, they urged the council to take action before more town centre stores shut up shop.

Dawn Atkinson, store manager at WHSmith said she could “pinpoint the day the buses were switched off” in terms of sales.

While a spokesperson for Dicksons butchers said its King Street store was feeling the pinch more than other branches across the North East.

Ms Lewell-Buck commented: “It seems like a self-inflicted wound on our town, as opposed to increasing footfall and making it easier for people to come into the town centre.

“The council has signed off on something that has decreased footfall to a particular part of the town and is damaging businesses and is now having to come up with solutions to remedy a problem of its own making.”

David Parker, head of commercial at Stagecoach North East said the company had highlighted many of these issues as part of their response to the 365 proposal.

He said: “We have seen a step change within retail particularly within South Tyneside.

“Fundamentally people are using the town centre in different ways but from our perspective we try to stay as close as we can to what the traditional retail market has been.

“We try to stay as consistent as we can, but we can only use the roads which are there.”

The final works at the interchange are due to be completed in August 2020, which will allow people to access the Market Square more easily and create a “different kind of atmosphere”.

But Mr Parker added that passenger numbers had remained largely the same, since the facility opened, he added: “It’s not bringing anything additional to the town yet, but equally from our perspective we’re seeing the same number of people come into the town.”

Council leaders have now agreed to look into other transport options such as a taxi bus to help people reach the Market Place.

At the end of last year services E1 and E10 were introduced to the BT Business Centre on Harton Quay.

George Mansbridge, Director for Regeneration and Environment and South Tyneside Council, stressed that he believed the 365 programme was the right thing for the town

“Town centres are having difficulty across the country and doing nothing isn’t the answer,” he said.

“We have to take a view for the whole town centre and this is going to take time. I know that means it's going to be painful for the short-term but in order to give South Tyneside a future in the long-term it’s got to change.”

Coun John Anglin, Lead Member for Regeneration and Economy, said: “The opening of the transport interchange last August marked a significant milestone in the South Shields 365 masterplan.

“As part of this phase of the plan, bus routes around the town centre – and the position of bus stops - were altered. These changes will facilitate the next phase of the regeneration, an enhanced retail and leisure offer – including a new cinema - in the Barrington Street area.

“This is a key part of a long-term plan which will encourage people to spend more time and money in the town centre.

“Maintaining bus routes along Chapter Row would have prevented this development from going ahead.

“Our multi-award-winning cultural venue, The Word, has already seen an additional 400,000 visitors a year drawn into the town centre, and the transport interchange provides a smart, high quality arrival point into South Shields.

“Downturn in retail is not unique to South Shields, it is an issue that is affecting high streets up and down the country, with more than 22,000 shops lost over the last nine years. We saw back in 2013 that a radical rethink was required and that remains the case

“As a council, we are doing all we can to create the infrastructure and conditions that will stimulate new private sector investment and re-energise our town centre creating a place that isn’t just reliant on retail but somewhere people want to live, work, visit and spend time.”

“In the short term we will continue to deliver more events at the market place to stimulate the town centre including the Easter Market on 4th April which builds on the success of the Christmas Market.”