New-look Northumberland Square opens

It’s great to see the completion of the council’s regeneration of Northumberland Square in North Shields town centre.

The new-look square re-opened just in time for the August bank holiday weekend, with the first event being held on Monday. Hundreds of local people enjoyed a range of musical acts and stalls as part of the Diversity festival.

The restoration of the square is of course just one piece in the jigsaw of a wider effort to regenerate North Shields town centre. As both a local councillor and a local resident I’m really pleased to see millions of pounds of investment going into the town. We are witnessing a level of determined regeneration that not been seen for over 20 years. The challenges of town centre decline are not unique to us, nor to just the North. It is good to see then that whilst other places are still dithering about what to do we are making things happen.

I’ve had my ear to the ground over the last few days listening to the local chatter about the new-look square. In general most people seem to be impressed by the quality of the work. The materials used are tasteful and have been selected to stand the test of time. The new layout, whilst creating more hard paving for events, has managed to retain a decent proportion of green space. A few trees have been lost, but they have been replaced with new planting on the previously barren Howard Street. Biodiversity has been improved with new hedges and a wider range of plant and flower species to attract insects and birds.

The only criticism I have really come across seems to be around questions of why? ‘Surely North Shields has higher priorities than Northumberland Square…’ would be a typical line. This isn’t an unreasonable question. Everybody knows that Bedford Street is a state and that the Beacon Centre is half empty. I’ve been in lots of meetings about both, and have contributed a variety of options that could help make things better. The bottom line however is ‘what are investors willing to fund’. Here’s some further info on that point…

When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister he promised to “Level Up”. Remember that? What actually happened was that the Treasury were tasked to change the way that they calculated the benefit of investment into local communities. This meant that lots of Conservative-voting areas got investment whilst Labour-voting areas didn’t. It has proven a very divisive approach. Amongst the various initiatives launched were “High Streets Heritage Action Zones”. Click here for a map of where the funding went. North Shields was able to get a slice of the funding for parts of the town classed as “historic”. This meant that Northumberland Square and Howard Street could be funded but Bedford Street didn’t meet the “historic” criteria. Ultimately I think it was a good decision to take the money to regenerate the part of the town that did qualify, rather than turn down the opportunity completely.

Overall, the benefit of this regeneration to the town can only be positive. It restores a bit of pride and will also grow confidence amongst entrepreneurs that North Shields is a good place to locate a business. Despite the very challenging economic circumstances we are in I’m hopeful that we will see quite a lot of positive new developments springing up in the area around the square now that it has been completed. I’ll be doing all I can in my role as a councillor to encourage that.

Pictures in gallery below courtesy of: @dwailes @Old_LowLight and myself.

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