South Shields 365 – bring it on
I’m no stranger to objecting to developments in South Tyneside. The second Tyne Tunnel project, the building of an industrial estate on green belt in Jarrow, waste incineration. But engaging in local development is not just about objecting. South Tyneside Council’s new South Shields 365 initiative, I think, with some minor reservations, is worth supporting.
It would be too easy to be pessimistic and cynical. After all, South Tyneside Council has been down this road before. The failed HMS Cavalier pipedream, the Hebburn town centre development which slipped into a half finished job, and the 2002 Comedia Transformational Plan for South Tyneside 100 Days initiative, silently shuffled off it’s mortal coil not long after the very public and expensive launch (although it’s still featured on David Miliband’s home page). If you look at the comments at the Shields Gazette website, it looks like buds of negativity are starting to bloom already. Hopefully it’s all hot air.
But if South Tyneside Council lets past failures stop new development, the future is a stagnant pond of disillusionment and decay.
On the face of it, South Shields 365 looks like a packaging of older disparate development plans with some new ideas into a single, simple brand. I think the development looks good, and has been imaginatively delivered. And it’s well overdue. Some people might say that a period of cuts and recession is the worst time to embark on such a project. I disagree, this is just the kind of kick start South Tyneside’s town centres need. As well as the civic areas, food and retail outlets I would like to see more to bring businesses from other sectors, like BT, into South Shields town centre. People working here are more likely to spend their leisure time here, and their cash, too.
Additionally, I would like see better transport options. There are already enough parking facilities in town, and Metro and bus users still form the largest group of people travelling to and from South Shields town centre, so a comfortable and safe transport hub is essential. Also, there needs to be better access and priority routes for cyclists in, out and around the town centre. Cycling on the roads in the town centre can be hairy experience and more needs to be done to make cycling safer and more attractive.
I like the idea of greening the Market Square, and how it links in better with the surroundings, without the road cutting between St Hilda’s and the market.
Some market traders have already complained on the television news that the significant reduction in pitches will change the Market Square. Of course it will. But none of those market traders who complained bothered to turn up on Christmas Eve, of all days, when the market place was a sea of empty metal stalls under a wet, grey sky. Their complaints would have some merit if they were fighting each other for pitches and showing some commitment to the town.
South Shields has got to compete with North Shields, Sunderland and Newcastle. It’s not an even playing field, but if Debenhams and Next can be attracted into South Shields, a re-energising of the town centre is required. This would help local businesses grow and thrive. Doing nothing is not an option.
I really hope that people engage with these plans, even if they don’t like everything that’s been presented so far.
Unfortunately, like all development plans, politics, planning and economics will get in the way, meaning that not all of it will come to pass. But I hope that most of it does.