Independents’ dangerous “Town Green” plan
It was hard to escape the political nature of the meeting held yesterday in Brigham and Cowan’s Club in South Shields called by local businessman Ahmed Khan who stood as an Independent Alliance candidate in May’s local government election, the invitation leaflets distributed in the Beacon and Bents ward carried the the party logo along the bottom. It was clear that this marks the beginning of the longest election campaign (nine months) that we are likely to see in South Tyneside. The Labour Party and the Independent Alliance will be the two major combatants with Cllr. Wood facing Mr. Khan.
Ahmed Khan chose the occasion to introduce what may be an Independent ‘policy initiative’ that will surely blight the development of our sea front area for generations to come. The background to this ‘policy’ lies with the application to give Village Green status to Temple Memorial Park which had faced the threat of major development and lies on the edge of the green belt between South Shields and Sunderland. Temple Park is unique, in that the Church Commissioners bequeathed the park to the people of South Shields with a covenant that it be used exclusively for leisure and recreational purposes, and I support it’s ‘protected’ status – the Village Green application is entirely appropriate here to protect the vital buffer zone between two major urban areas.
However, Mr. Khan’s idea to provide very similar protection by applying for ‘Town Green’ status for the North Marine Park, the South Marine Park, the Bents Park, and the Bents Recreation Ground would set a dangerous path that would blight and stifle sea front development for many years to come. His plan would set in stone where and what new developments could be allowed, and these would only be allowed where existing permanent structures are currently based. Any new fresh ideas and proposals for future tourist developments, leisure centres, swimming pools, hotels, information centres, maritime museums, caravan parks etc. would be non starters if they fell within the areas deemed to be on the ‘Town Green’.
An idea already mooted in forward plans for sea front regeneration includes handing over the Sandhaven Caravan Park to a private company and allowing it to extend into the nearby Bents Recreation Ground, a very sound idea that would improve the caravan park’s facilities and allow us to attract more visitors to the town, thus increasing economic development. Such an idea would also be a non starter if the Bents were included within a ‘Town Green’.
There is great potential for future development in the sea front area, I would like to see a visitor centre and information point within the South Marine Park built within a new ‘railway station’ for the Lakeshore Railroad, but it couldn’t happen if the park was within a ‘Town Green’. For many years we have yearned for more facilities that visitors could enjoy indoors on rainy days, perhaps a swimming pool or a leisure centre? If they fell within the boundaries of the Independent’s ‘Town Green’ they could not be built.
There are many good imaginative ideas to bring more visitors to South Shields, but if we had a ‘Town Green’ would those futuristic plans and creative ideas just evaporate because of ‘Town Green’ restrictions.
Then there is climate change to consider, if the eco doom and gloom merchants happen to be correct and sea levels rise over the coming century, how will coastal erosion affect South Shields? Would it be necessary to move Sea Road and Harbour Drive further inland and encroach upon the parks? Couldn’t do it if they were a ‘Town Green’
What would my future grand children think of us when they begin to compare South Shields to it’s neighbouring seaside resorts of Whitley Bay, Tynemouth, and Sunderland in fourty or fifty years time and discover that whilst our neighbours had improved their environments and were wonderful places to visit, we had stood still, like a museum piece? Don’t we now complain that we are already being left behind by the progress of other North-East areas? I fear the ‘Town Green’ idea could blight the development of South Shields for years and years into the future.
I may have been spotted talking to the ever humourous and experienced former chairman of the Town Development committee, Gerry Graham, last night and we are agreed that this plan is a dangerous concept brought on by reacting too quickly to events of the last couple of weeks. There is a danger in selling out your own soul in an effort to accommodate the noisiest NIMBY’s on your doorstep, and as I said in my last post there is a much bigger picture to consider, and that is the future for the whole of South Tyneside, not just the immediate area around the Riverside and the North Marine Park. There are lots of times when a borough councillor, or an MP needs to be true to their own conscience and beliefs first and foremost, a representative without principles is a poor one, a poor representative is a person who attempts to agree with everyone – it just isn’t possible.
The appropriateness of Temple Memorial Park’s status cannot be transferred to the sea front parks, they are a totally different scenario, they are not the green belt buffer zone between towns, development and improvements cannot be banished from the minds of our future generations.
I say to Robin Coombes, Ahmed Khan, and the other Independents please change your mind, tear up the application, and improve the future prospects of South Tyneside by supporting well thought out plans and developments that improve the economic and employment opportunities of our children. Please see that your plan will be a vote loser at the polls and realise that it is irresponsible to tie the hands of our future citizens.
Last night’s two main speakers Cllr. John Wood (left), Mr. Ahmed Khan (right)