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SOUTH SHIELDS UPDATE: “Evolved vision” for the future of the town revealed

In previous years, South Tyneside Council’s multi-million pound South Shields 365 scheme has delivered improvements in the area, from a new transport interchange to the construction of ‘The Word.’

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the council was moving towards phase three of the project which aimed to provide a new and improved retail and leisure offer, including a cinema.

According to a presentation given to borough councillors this week, the pandemic has “accelerated retail decline” and council officers are now looking at new schemes to revitalise South Shields.

This includes more town centre housing and leisure opportunities, public realm improvements and a focus on improved walking and cycling links, heritage, formal green space and public art.

Alongside new homes proposed at Holborn and residential opportunities being explored at the former Central Library site, council bosses hope to improve digital connectivity by introducing public Wi-fi across the town.

Meanwhile, proposals for South Tyneside College to move to the town centre are seen as key to diversifying South Shields, boosting the night-time economy and increasing footfall – with more than 9,000 students expected.

A funding bid for the modern campus to the Department for Education has now been shortlisted, with a separate government ‘Levelling up’ funding bid also lodged.

The regeneration proposals for South Shields, described as an “evolved vision,” were  presented to Tuesday’s (July 27) Place Select Committee at South Shields Town Hall.

Councillors were told that the council’s partner for South Shields 365, Muse Developments Ltd, was still involved in the regeneration plans.

And council regeneration bosses stressed that the strategic options for the town would be shaped through engagement with local residents, councillors and businesses.

As part of future planning, several “opportunity sites” have been identified for regeneration purposes including a green space near the town’s ferry landing hub.

Potential uses at this site could include a cafe/ restaurant, way finding and travel information, parcel delivery lockers and cycle parking.

In addition, the proposals include more tree-lined routes in areas such as Fowler Street and Burrow Street to “soften urban spaces, providing shade and visual interest.”

The council aims to develop its existing assets at Market Square and St Hildas with new events while fostering pop-ups and cafes and transforming the gable ends of buildings with striking murals.

Strategic connections are also being developed to link Harton and Holborn riverside, the town centre and the “Fowler Street gateway.”

Many councillors noted the benefits of South Shields 365 in the past but agreed that a new approach was needed going forward.

While the cinema plan is still under review, council officers suggested that its future is uncertain due to the borough’s existing cinema facilities at Boldon and the Customs House.

Beacon and Bents ward councillor Angela Hamilton said South Shields was an “asset” that had benefits not just to the borough, but the wider region.

She added that the type and location of residential development should be considered carefully to avoid creating residential amenity and access issues.

Beacon and Bents ward councillor David Francis also welcomed more residential and leisure facilities, active travel and the promotion of heritage and culture – as opposed to a retail-focused strategy.

“We’re not going to compete with a Newcastle or a Metro Centre for that type of provision and even those places might be struggling in the face of changing shopping habits,” he said.

“So we don’t want to be a second rate-something else, we want to be the best possible for South Tyneside.”

Councillor Jim Foreman, cabinet member for housing and transport, described the new proposals as a “vision of connection” linking housing and regeneration schemes and maximising opportunities for grant funding.

Head of regeneration and housing on the council, Peter Mennell, said that the proposals were the “start of the conversation” and that engagement work would follow.

As well as council-led schemes, he noted that the majority of land and premises in the town centre were privately owned and that fresh plans and concepts aimed to inspire individuals to “buy-in.”

“It’s an evolved vision, it’s not the end of the vision,” he told the Place Select Committee.

“South Shields 365 was all about making South Shields a destination building on what we have at the riverside and the foreshore, that’s very much still the plan.

“It’s about bringing footfall into the town centre.”

Mennell added:”I deliberately called it an evolving plan rather than a new plan or a new master-plan because it isn’t that.

“It’s just a moving with the times.”

Written by Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporter

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