'They're forcing us out of business': Shopping centre bosses blame decline on council

Newcastle City council said the Peer Group is as well supported as any other shopping firm in the city

Eldon Garden Shopping Centre in the centre of Newcastle
Eldon Garden Shopping Centre in the centre of Newcastle

Shopping centre bosses have accused Newcastle Council of trying to force them out of business.

The owners of Newcastle’s Eldon Garden say the council has refused to help them with even basic traffic signs to help would-be customers find the niche shopping centre tucked away at the back of Eldon Square.

The city council owns a share in the larger Eldon Square shopping centre, and Garden owners Peer Group said jobs have gone while civic centre chiefs try to encourage their shopping centre partners Intu. Council bosses say the claims are entirely wrong, adding that they have had repeated talks with the group, and have lowered car parking charges to help the firm but that they had to be careful with the use of public funds.

Howard Dawson, Peer group managing director, said he had met with council chief executive Pat Ritchie and told her a council decision to ban right hand turns into the car park for cars coming in from the North on Percy Street had seen trade fall.

The firm offered to pay £50,000 towards changing the road layout but the offer had yet to be taken up.

As a result, shops continue to close down and jobs put at risk.

Kitchen shop Lakeland is set to be the latest to move from Eldon Gardens to Eldon Square, despite Peer group saying an extra 200 jobs could be created if the council backed its investment.

Mr Dawson said: “We want the council to do what they were meant to do when we came in and work with us to help grow this niche shopping centre. They are instead taking actions that will run us out of town. They want to close Eldon Gardens and pick it up on the cheap.

“The council needs to think of this centre as an important part of the retail mix in Newcastle and work with us to get new customers here or see the situation get worse.”

The Peer group boss said the Eldon Garden car park was built as a shopper’s car park but by “mismanagement” it had become in effect a commuter car park with £5 all day parking in response to the reduced take up by shoppers.

He was backed by John Thompson, whose North East Art Collective is one of those shops waiting for the council to back it.

Mr Thompson said: “Due to the changes the local authorities have damaged the flow of traffic into Eldon Gardens, the roundabout is not signposted well so traffic automatically goes to Eldon Square car parks. On leaving the Eldon Garden car park you are met with road congestion every time due to the traffic calming that is in place there.”

The council has said the Peer Group is as well supported as any other shopping firm in the city and that the road changes were needed to ensure an easy flow of traffic through Newcastle.

A city council spokesman said: “With our partners we are doing everything that we can to support retail development in the whole of the city centre, and it’s simply not true that we are running this centre down. In our role as the local authority for planning, highways and traffic we must ensure that traffic flows freely and that adequate parking facilities are maintained. The measures we have taken in respect of the Eldon Garden car park were designed to achieve these aims.”

Several council measures have been taken to encourage shoppers include freezing the hourly tariff in the multi-storey car park for the fourth year running and introducing a payphone so people can pay and top up if required without returning to their car.

There will also be a review of road layouts on St Mary’s Place and Percy Street later in the year.

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