England & Wales Economy and regeneration, Welfare and equalities

Viewpoint: The future of seaside towns

Image by nickfrom from Pixabay

Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council, explains his authority’s multifaceted approach to regeneration, which takes in much more than the coastline.

The recent House of Lords Report on the future of seaside towns will have struck a chord with Leaders across the country. The economic gap between coastal and non-coastal places is growing.

As Lord Bassam quite rightly states: “A single solution to their economic and social challenges doesn’t exist.”

South Tyneside is almost half way through a 20-year vision to raise prosperity across the borough. This will rebuild our local economy and put in place solid infrastructure for the benefit of future generations. We are tackling our challenges head on by pursuing an ambitious strategy of regeneration.

South Shields is our largest town, sitting on both the North East coastline and the River Tyne. Investment in the public realm through a combination of sea change, coastal communities and council funding has seen a dramatic change in the appearance and perceptions of the Foreshore and its approach from South Shields town centre. As well as improving the Foreshore aesthetically there have been significant flood defences installed to protect our communities – not to mention private sector investment to enhance our tourism offer further.

Although the House of Lords report suggests a decline in tourism, our interventions to date have actually seen an increase. Tourism is one of South Tyneside’s key strengths, and is vital to the social and economic future of our region. By investing in our Foreshore we have enhanced the customer experience for our visitors and created an environment for private sector growth, helping to sustain our economy in the longer term.

In South Tyneside tourism brings in £306m annually and visitor numbers have grown by 21 per cent since 2010. We are proud of these achievements and are continuing to improve our tourist offer, but we took a decision some years ago that we needed to do more – to provide the right conditions for entrepreneurship, private sector investment and economic growth.

A £2m investment in the public realm through Sea Change funding has seen a dramatic change in the appearance and perceptions of the Foreshore, which has, in turn generated private sector confidence. Local business Dunes Adventure Island, for example, has invested £2m into their operation. In addition, our forthcoming Coastal Communities Scheme to further enhance the South Shields Promenade, has attracted £1.5m of investment from local business Ocean Beach Pleasure Park. For South Tyneside Coastal communities funding has made a positive impact and I agree with the Lords report that it should continue with an increase the fund’s resources.

We are now focusing our effort on the regeneration of the town centre – ensuring that the South Shields’ three distinct areas complement each other and provide a seamless transition from one to another while still retaining their individual character and function.

To bring together our foreshore and riverside we are putting in place ‘South Shields 365’ a £100m investment programme.  We have completed a number of associated landmark developments such as ‘The Word’ – The National Centre for the Written Word, an iconic gateway building between the riverside and town centre and winner of 19 national and regional awards. A new £16m transport Interchange will be completed later in the summer, to be followed by retail space, leisure, cinema and family restaurants.

Another proposed mixed-use development within a designated Enterprise Zone at Holborn Riverside, will provide around 200,000 square feet of Grade A office accommodation as well as a deep water quay on the Tyne. Transforming the disused South Shields docks and surrounding brownfield land into a vibrant riverside location with high-quality offices, housing and a cultural offer. We are creating places and new communities by freeing up land and making it more appealing for private sector development.

Most significantly though, the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), the UK’s first employment-led Infrastructure Project, has been awarded £42.5m of funding from the Local Growth Fund. It is a project of national significance in the UK’s Industrial Strategy and is being developed jointly with Sunderland City Council and Henry Boot Developments.

The project creates the environment for long term economic growth and job creation, exploiting the A19 economic artery to develop a cross-boundary scheme with a focus on large scale advanced manufacturing.

IAMP will see the arrival of The Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (Cesam) alongside car parts manufacturer SNOP UK. It is expected that over the next ten to fifteen years, IAMP will support more than £400m of private sector investment, creating over 7,000 jobs.

As a council South Tyneside is willing to look beyond the traditional seaside offer and invest in the infrastructure, housing, skills and services needed to grow our communities in the coming years.

Of course though we are not complacent, there is much work still to be done and that is why our own Place Select Committee has set up a commission which will examine the future of South Shields as a seaside town. This will ensure that we continue to evolve to meet current and future challenges.

A policy briefing on the Future of Seaside Towns, House of Lords Committee report is available to LGiU members.