Frederick Street: 40 year decline to be arrested.
South Shields street prepares to get new neighbours
Almost six years ago I blogged about the possibilities of getting some new housing and regeneration into the Frederick Street area of South Shields, I opined then that the main reason that this once thriving retail area was in steady decline was because it had lost its customer base, and that happened forty years ago in 1972 when a larger part of the “long streets” were demolished. Other than the small Lytton Park estate very few other houses were erected on the empty land, car ownership increased dramatically, people were more willing to travel further to find the type of shopping that they wanted, and the traders in Frederick Street began a gargantuan struggle for survival.
The neglect for the area by South Tyneside’s Labour council, and indeed its predecessors typified the reasons why I could not follow in the footsteps of my peers and support the party with any sort of unthinking blind loyalty that they showed. There were quite a few areas in South Tyneside that were allowed to just lay fallow over the course of those years including huge swathes of the riverside in Jarrow and Hebburn, and the site of the old coke ovens at Monkton. However in the last decade more effort has been put into economic regeneration, we now have modern business parks in Monkton and Boldon Colliery, the old St. Hilda’s colliery site houses a good business hub, the old Harton colliery site had earlier been replaced with housing, the Cleadon Park estate has been thoroughly reformed with a mix of social and private housing, housing has been much improved in West Harton and smaller housing developments in Jarrow and Hebburn are much welcomed. Yet Frederick Street continues to decline and struggle and provides a visual eyesore on the main approach route into South Shields, it should be remembered as one of the great failures of the Labour Party to provide for the future of this area, this forty year legacy of crumbling ruin and economic heartache ought to have been an electoral battleground but it never was, and never shall be as long as sons and daughters blindly follow the dictums of their parents to vote Labour, the party will be quietly appreciative of this blind support.
That area of local politics, which I will refer to as “town development” took a great change under the leadership of Paul Waggott and has been continued under the present leadership of Iain Malcolm and the riverside regeneration plan is now one of Labour’s centre piece policies in South Tyneside, there is a realisation that we cannot hold on to our past and must build for the aspirations of future residents to provide a modern borough capable of attracting inward economic investment, and I think that they now see the the size of the problems stored up for them in the past after years of introspective navel gazing and subsequent neglect. I have always welcomed this new plan for the riverside and the Rekendyke ward, bringing a mix of housing and business opportunities to the area that really represented the heart of South Shields as it grew away from the market area in the late 1800s, for me it just cannot happen soon enough. So it is with some pleasure that I now see the signs going up in Frederick Street and what remains of Wallpole Street telling us that “this property has been acquired by South Tyneside Council for regeneration”. To be fair this process of acquiring properties is the most difficult part of the plan, some leases are longer than others and problematic to negotiate, some owners feel as though they may get a better deal by hanging on until the last minute (unfortunately they will not, their properties will be bought at a low price using CPOs) but once all of the land deals are made we can then see more rapid progress.
I took the opportunity of getting in touch with Cllr. Michael Clare, the Lead Member for this policy area and also one of the Rekendyke ward councillors to ask him about the level of progress being made and to try and ascertain what level of retail footage will remain in Frederick Street to service all of the new houses that will be build around it.
As you know the Council has been and continues to acquire land along the riverside and within the Trinity area.
Frederick Street is an integral part of the Riverside Regeneration Project and considered a high priority by the Council at both Officers and Political levels.
We are at last after considerable time at a sensitive stage in discussions with developers and landlords within and around Frederick Street. Local Councillors have recently met with Frederick Street Traders Representatives and the dialogue and support has been really positive about our ambitions for Frederick Street.
So in a nutshell, yes, Frederick Street does have a future as a retail area and businesses will continue to have our support. As part of the dialogue with Traders we have promised to maintain strong lines of communication with them at key milestones.
We are keen to continue to promote the street.
Curly, I believe you also have the capacity and network to help us in that regard and I personally would welcome your support.
As always, there seems to be confusion at the scale of development along Frederick Street.
For the avoidance of doubt demolition will only take place on the southern section. The northern section is being retained and developed with the emphasis on mixed retail.
The Council are currently negotiating with owners/retailers/landlords on the southern end. Those negotiations are at different stages for differing reasons some more complex than others and sensitive to those parties impacted by them.
We are however committed to this regeneration project.
There is one small cryptic clue in Michael’s words -which I hope I am reading correctly – “The northern section is being retained and developed with the emphasis on mixed retail”. I am anxious to know what sort of development is envisaged to modernise what will be the “rump” of this once fine shopping thoroughfare? By retaining the northern part we are assuming that some sort of works can extend its lifetime even further, and some sort of developments can be made which will shield from our eyes the unsightly mess which can all to readily be seen from the dual carriageway behind it as we enter town. I am also presently concerned that some of the properties in the northern part of Frederick Street may no longer be fit for purpose, or indeed still standing by the time the plan finally reaches fruition.
One of South Tyneside council’s Chief Project Engineers told me:
The site is 5.3 hectares (13 acres) in size and already has outline planning permission for 401 new homes.
The Council is currently running a competitive tender process to select a private sector developer to develop a mix of 2, 3 and 4 bedroom family homes on the site. This will include a proportion of homes for social rent. Six national housebuilders submitted formal expressions of interest in the development, and the tender process is working towards shortlisting these down to select a preferred developer. We expect the developer to be appointed in June, 2012. I’m not able to give you details of the bidders or their proposals as the public procurement process has to be kept confidential. The proposed plans will be available when the developer has been selected.
To facilitate comprehensive redevelopment, privately owned properties in the southern part of Frederick Street will need to be acquired by the Council. The Council has already started a programme of acquisitions and demolitions through negotiations with the individual landowners. We are also working with existing businesses to assist with their relocation where this is possible.
It is expected that construction work for the housing development will start in early 2013. It is unlikely that all the acquisitions will have been completed by this time, so this will continue in parallel with starting the first phase of development. It is expected that the full development will take about 5 years.
The northern part of Frederick Street (north of Walpole Street) will remain as part of the neighbourhood centre. One of the Council’s requirements for the development is that the future development is physically integrated with the existing retail and service centre.
The emphasis is mine, I keep hoping to read little secrets in these exchanges, I am optimistic you know, and keep thinking that the current part of the old street just cannot be left as it is to sit in a new housing development. Nor can the current visual impact of this gateway route into the town be left as it is. The rear of Frederick Street has as much visual appeal as a landfill site, and this simply will not be acceptable in 2018.
Whilst the street has continued its decline a number of enterprising young businesses have begun to flourish, there has been a rapid growth in take away food shops and cafes, which whilst not fully replicating the culinary delights of Ocean Road are coming close. The street has some of the finest Indian and Bangladeshi food outlets in the town now as well as shops to satisfy those who wish to purchase the ingredients to cook their own. Many of these businesses may want to remain in the Frederick Street area in the years ahead of the new developments and it would be a great pity to see their enterprising work lost, one looks and hopes that premises with names such as The Phoenix Cafe have a prophetic sound and that the mix of retail development in the future will surely give the impression of an area reborn and rising from the ashes like a Phoenix. One would hope that the decline had finally been arrested.
Only then, by circa 2020, will we be able to look back and begin to forget about the near fifty year neglect by a succession of mainly Labour councils who appeared to care little about the legacy that they had left for their children. One has to congratulate the current team of planners for their foresight, and the disparate opposition in South Tyneside for providing their support (for surely they had NO alternative plans of their own during those years), and now we must trust that property owners fully engage with the proposals and negotiate calmly and timely to ensure that the best deals are made on behalf of themselves and South Tyneside Council to ensure that this development along the riverside proceeds with utmost speed.