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South Shields – a dismal place?

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glasshouseJoan Smith, you need to visit your mother more often!

Some years ago, when he was still a junior minister, David Miliband offered to send me a copy of South Tyneside’s cultural strategy. I was astonished and excited: my mother lives in Miliband’s South Shields constituency, which I visited frequently as a child, and I remember it as a rather dismal place with lots of fish and chip shops and a dingy slot-machine arcade. I’ve been back plenty of times since and now it’s even more run-down……….

South Shields was never in the same league as Hastings.

Beauty of course is in the eye of the beholder, and unfortunately Hastings simply cannot compete with the natural beauty of our remarkable northern coastline, nor our broad flat spacious sandy beaches, or our miles of open green space on The Leas and our wonderful sea front public parks. Hastings has it’s cliff face and a narrow pebbly beach with ornate colonnaded Victorian buildings and one or two smart inviting hotels, it’s closeness to it’s history is not nearly as intimate or as old as ours (think of Bede), it is indeed more memorable for its traditional English pier which was sadly destroyed a few days ago. I have visited Hastings, it is nice of course and it is closer to the traditional expectation of a seaside resort being more compact than South Shields, but I could find just as much to feel dismal about it with it’s tacky gift shops, candy floss atmosphere, amusement arcades, and keep off the grass signs.

I have been relatively excited by some of our new developments that have happened recently in South Shields but seriously disappointed at the snail’s pace at which we introduce changes and improvements. Redevelopment at the Ocean Beach Amusement Park has been welcome, the South Marine Park is a real gem now, the Littlehaven Hotel was an excellent addition to amenities, new housing along the riverside has been a boon (although the fledgling plans to build a marina at the old Velva Liquids site might have been a bigger plus if they had been pursued), the plan for the regeneration of Rekendyke is a good one but so slow in progress, but Ms. Smith is essentially right in asserting that we need to make the very most of our relationship with the sea and our beaches, to which I will add our maritime heritage.

The new swimming pool promised for the Pier Head area will be a massive improvement and add to the amenities available for use in all weathers, but we do, however, need to add more and I see scope for additional hotels (the Gypsies Green proposal was excellent but a major disappointment that it ran into opposition financially and politically), a maritime and shipping museum on underused Port of Tyne land at the Pier Head incorporating the Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House would also prove to be a draw as would the relocation of the Westovian’s Theatre to this area. I also see scope in the future for development opportunities in the North Marine Park and would love to see  a “community glass house” growing exotic plants and perhaps cactii and trees tended by school groups or allotment associations in the area occupied by the former Parks Department building. In the South Marine Park I’d like to see further development of the Lakeshore Railroad station that might include the Tourist Information Office and static displays illustrating the history and renewal of the Victorian park all within a station building constructed along Victorian designs with a waiting room and small cafe. I’d like to see greater links between the Littlehaven beach and the Arbeia Roman Fort, although any buildings ought to be confined to the beach facing frontage below the park’s heights. I’d like to see some really bold moves to relocate the football pitches on “the Dragon” to the Gypsies Green area with the co-operation of the National Trust, to allow an expansion of leisure facilities, perhaps including another stab at attracting a hotel/conference centre surrounded by retail units (go see the far end of Hartlepool’s marina for an example of the style which I prefer).

If we want to be extremely bold and dashing then why can we not set about doing “a Bridges” on King Street, all it needs is a big imagination and bags of will!

South Shields, unfortunately, is not a town which can be passed through easily, we do not sit on a major road or rail route and therefore we need to continue to attract and entice people here, however our proximity to the A194M and the A19 as well as the Tyne Tunnel makes us an ideal base for touring Durham and Northumberland with their history, cathedrals and castles, we have numerous smaller guest houses but precious few quality hotels, so there are opportunities to be grasped here. A framework and a plan is in place, and we must never be afraid to change and alter our viewpoint from time to time in the quest to exploit our natural position and resources next to the sea to grow our local economy.

In this time of recession we need to remain optimistic and enthusiastic, knowing full well that we cannot guarantee the sort of regular weather patterns that attract thousands to the seaside, therefore we need to offer more for those days in the spring and summer months when rain may arrive at any moment. What we have right now is certainly not “dismal” , but it has to be recognised that it is insufficient to reinvigorate and spark local economic growth, with some of the plans already announce we need to enthuse our leaders to push ahead harder and faster to make the changes happen, where we have fallen down in the past is self evident, great promises but slow evolution of development which has left us playing catch up with our neighbours.

What’s needed to revitalise the English seaside is a bold approach that puts the sea and the beach at the very heart of the town’s amenities. It’s an amazing fact that what people expect when they arrive in an English resort (and indeed what they get) is a dismal row of tattoo parlours, slot machine arcades and takeaway food shops. What happened to the entrepreneurial spirit that gave us piers, oyster bars, art-deco lidos and even the Brighton Pavilion? Art galleries and seaside art installations are a start, but we also need seafood restaurants, modern hotels and a range of activities including sea fishing and boat trips. Otherwise, what’s happening to English seaside towns really will turn into the end of-the-pier show.

Joan Smith is right on some of these points but if she visited her mother in South Shields more often she’d discover that the people here, with our aspirations and medium term plans, are anything but dismal.

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Written by curly

October 7, 2010 at 11:17 am

13 Responses

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  1. Some wonderful ideas. I like the idea of a maritime museum. There may well be a need for a new marina, much as it is an expensive pastime to own and run a yacht or motorboat. The other ideas are interesting as well. However, you may not be aware that the hours at the Roman Fort Museum have had to be reduced to make savings, our other museums have had to put forward other ideas to reduce costs, funding from the EU for the region (£150m) has been cancelled because it required match funding (the government were not prepared to engage with). Costs are imperative, even the mere consultation and preparation of plans for some of the ventures you suggest would be expensive in themselves. The government refused to allow One North East to deploy the regional tourism marketing strategy so my educated guess is that visitor numbers to the area are already down.
    Where will the money come from? Which investor or businessman will want to engage in such plans in an area where money is draining away, and where the man in the street will have less to spend in his pocket. You seem to be supporting the idea put forward by the Labour Party that we could invest our way out of recession, but where will the money come from. The north-east is a wasteland for the ConLibs and whilst you show enthusiasm, your ideas have a foundation of sand. No, I fear we must be prepared for real austerity in the north-east, an even bigger hike to our high unemployment rates, less people paying taxes or council tax, and far less money available to local government who have already been forced to cancel aged persons food clubs and close old folk’s homes. The ConLibs provide another death knell for the north-east.


    October 7, 2010 at 11:58 am

  2. It is, perhaps, this unwillingness to move away from public funding and be enterprising, yes welcome some profit motivated projects, that causes some visitors to regard us as “dismal”.

    I’m sure that by pooling all of our ideas and resources and working together creating new partnerships where necessary, we can drag ourselves away from this “cannot manage it” mentality.


    October 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm

  3. I may not have been clear enough this isn’t just about public sector investment, it is about providing the environment for the private sector to invest and to work in partnership with the public sector, they need each other. None of your ideas can progress without that partnership. Lets not think that the private sector is having an easy time in the north, they are not, the tourism sector, health sector, and construction sector to name a few are all feeling the pain of recent government cuts and savings. We had a good approach to partnership working in the region but like all things this needs support and investment. It’s early days but I can’t see any good news at the moment but please in a years time quote me as being wrong if we are wealthier, more people are in employment, there is less crime, improved health and education services, and we are welcoming greater numbers of visitors to the town this will give a comparison of how national politics is affecting our region some 16 months after the election.


    October 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm

  4. Enough of the doom and gloom, it will not provide the environment that you are looking for.
    As for cuts, this government announced in its emergency budget that it plans to spend more in total this year than Gordon Brown’s did in its final year of office!
    Spending, and debt, is also planned to rise for the next five years, just not at the rate that you may wish.

    I have previously pointed this out here, and here.


    October 7, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    • I’ll move on from this subject but I feel you are a little bit on the edge of, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Inflation has risen significantly over the past two or so years however many of my friends have not had a pay rise, some have had a rise but it is significantly less than the rate of inflation. yes they have more but… Or they have not had a cut in wages but… In other words it would be an insult to say they have had increases in wages so should not moan on. I feel there is a lack of realism in your rhetoric.


      October 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    • You keep repeating the same old line about the budget increase as if it’s meaningful. The headline budget has risen, but every department is facing cuts. What don’t you get about that Curly?


      October 7, 2010 at 11:20 pm

      • Trouble is, you are both living in the “narrative” at the moment, the Comprehensive Spending Review has still not taken place, not a penny of real spending plans have been published by the Chancellor. So far all we have had are plans, proposals, or just speculation!
        Which post war government of our actually managed to carry through it’s rhetoric and reduce overall public expenditure? Which government got a structural deficit under control without resorting to increasing taxation?


        October 8, 2010 at 8:05 pm

  5. ‘Living the narrative’? Perhaps you missed the ‘facing cuts’ of my comment?


    October 8, 2010 at 10:25 pm

  6. Let’s see which of them manage to twist the Chancellor’s arm Brian.


    October 9, 2010 at 12:58 am

    • Is it right that government departments have had to plan for between 25% and 40% cuts to their budget? If so does that not amount to a cut? As a person whose family are facing redundancy notices I feel comments such as living in the ‘narrative’ are frankly inappropriate. Is this the approach that the right take to such issues? Apparently so! It’s back to Thatcherism, old fashioned, nothing new, no optimism for the north-east, if there is where is it? A £1b fund has been set aside for regional growth, however that is a national fund which when analysed results in very meagre pickings. No Curly, you are wrong on this one and frankly I’m dissapointed that you can’t find someway of voicing your support for the north-east and South Tyneside at this time, you don’t have to fall in with the tory masses.


      October 9, 2010 at 10:33 am

    • Hey Curly, its been a while but i have cracked it.!!!!
      Can you remember popping in my house nearly 2 years ago and me pointing out the fact allen branley conned me out of 920 quid (last years council tax bill)
      Well i have just had confirmation from a man called Allen that when we where advertising his dentist surgery leaflet his boss a miss victoria corless phoned joanne at the surgery to steal the contract and spread lies and gossip as she was jelous of our dedication as a new business and she passed all the lies on to branley and thats why they didnt cough up mad eh,evil thinkers evil do ers…….

      mr de

      November 2, 2010 at 2:33 pm

  7. The point is Council’s were making cuts long before the ConLib Coalition came into power; Newcastle City being a case in point.Empty business premises and “TO LET” signs are contributing to this “dismal” look and feel.GMB UNISON are all monitoring cuts, and it does not make for optimistic reading. DM is dubbed a deficit denier; a singularly hurtful and inappropriate comment. South Shields is full of community minded “Big Society” people, and there are plenty of good news stories in the “Gazete” which confirm that. We need to utilise the CAFs as forums where we try and generate ideas for reviving the area.We also need to monitor the area’s economy 2010 to 2015 and log in detail the effects of the cuts continuously lobbying those local Conservative Councillors who show an interest in their localities and electorate, ensuring that they communicate what is happening here back to GO&Co in London.

    Labour New Boy

    October 10, 2010 at 8:28 am

  8. Nook Traders Association; a welcome step in the right direction and an example of what DC calls the BIG SOCIETY which community ethos has been around since Jobe was a lad. The invention of this term by DC is an example of Shane Warne like political spin.

    Labour New Boy

    October 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

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