IT is barely four weeks since South Tyneside Council launched its £100m masterplan to make South Shields an exciting destination every day of the year yet already there is progress on the ground.
The ambitious plan – titled South Shields 365 – sets out a bold vision for a radical town centre redevelopment including a new cinema as well as retail and leisure facilities.
Contractors have arrived in South Shields Market Place to prepare the eyesore Wouldhave House building for demolition with the site earmarked for a new central library and arts centre.
The move is a serious signal of intent from South Tyneside Council, which is in discussions with a number of prospective private-sector development partners interested in making the South Shields 365 masterplan a reality.
Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “By pressing ahead with the demolition of Wouldhave House we are making it absolutely clear that the delivery of South Shields 365 is our number one priority.
“As a council, we are taking a strong and decisive lead on site assembly, infrastructure and public realm improvements so that we can create conditions that are ripe for private sector investment.
“South Shields has a beautiful coastline, a magnificent riverside and a unique and very welcoming community. These are powerful assets that we can build on to secure a bright future for our town centre.
“The South Shields 365 masterplan is about making sure that this tremendous potential is realised. We are ambitious for South Shields and the key to success is to play to its strengths.”
One of the driving forces behind the development of the masterplan was the shocking discovery that for every £100 of disposable income in their pockets, South Tyneside residents spend only £3.70 in South Shields town centre.
“Like high streets across the country, South Shields town centre is facing major threats and challenges as a result of the rise of online shopping, out-of-town retail parks and the tough economic climate,” said Coun Malcolm.
“Whether we like it or not, the fact is our residents are choosing to spend their money elsewhere. It has become very clear that the town centre needs to change if it is to prosper. We cannot turn the clock back.
“Our vision for South Shields is to make it a place of year-round cultural, leisure and retail activity for residents, businesses and visitors. We recognise the need to offer an experience that people cannot get on the internet or at out-of-town retail parks.
“A new cinema, for example, would benefit retailers by attracting visitors at all times of day and on every day of the week, playing a key part in growing the South Shields offer and complementing activities on our sea front and riverside.
“By expanding our retail and leisure offer, we can not only retain a greater proportion of our residents’ spending power in the borough but also attract more visitors from other parts of the region.”
A powerful theme running throughout the South Shields 365 masterplan is the concept of the town centre, riverside and sea front as a peninsula with each offering a gateway to the next.
There is a desire to knit these three distinct areas together in a way that ensures a seamless transition from one to another while still retaining their individual character and function.
The potential for coastal and riverside attractions to boost town centre trade is not lost on a council that is already leading the development of a £2.3m waterfront park on the riverside and a £16m pool and leisure complex on the sea front.
Both projects are set for completion later this year and in keeping with the peninsula theme, supporting schemes to build stronger links with the town centre are under way.
The demolition of Wouldhave House will open up the Market Place to the riverside while a £2.4m scheme to make Ocean Road more pedestrian- friendly will encourage more coastal visitors into the town centre, capitalising on South Shields’s success as a traditional seaside resort.
Coun Malcolm said: “When you consider the town centre’s close proximity to the sea front and riverside and each area’s respective strengths, you can see that we are well on the way to developing a truly world-class offer for South Shields.
“South Tyneside Council has led an incredible journey of transformation across the borough, from the redevelopment of Boldon Business Park in the 1990s to the transformation of Jarrow town centre and Cleadon Park.
“In many respects South Shields town centre is the final piece of the jigsaw. We already have a great deal to be proud of but we must move forward with the creation of new opportunities for residents, businesses and visitors.
“Modern town centres with attractive retail and leisure facilities have a major bearing on quality of life and by providing them we can make South Tyneside an outstanding place to live, invest and bring up families.”
For further details of the South Shields 365 masterplan, or to download a copy, log on to: www.southshields365.co.uk
SOUTH SHIELDS 365 - THE VISION
The South Shields 365 masterplan is aimed at making South Shields an exciting destination every day of the year.
Among its three to five year objectives are:
The comprehensive redevelopment of Fowler Street West, creating a new retail quarter to the town
Improvements to the Metro and bus stations and better traffic management
A new, quality hotel with conferencing facilities in the town centre
The creation of opportunities for the development of new national and independent retail and leisure uses
A new central library and arts centre in the market place
Enhancements to public realm
The creation of opportunities for new housing
A remodelled market place providing a hub for activities and improving links between the town centre and riverside.