What’s wrong with Stockton Town Centre?My investigation and plan for action
It seems to me that the Labour led coalition running Stockton Council couldn’t have done more to damage Stockton Town Centre if it had tried.
“I remember forty years ago, when Stockton was a vibrant, bustling, market town,“ said one shop owner to me in Stockton last week. Yet it’s been downhill all the way ever since.
Figures released by the Local Data Company (LDA) a few weeks ago showed that Stockton has the fifth worst figure in the country for empty shops, as highlighted recently by UKIP North East MEP Jonathan Arnott.The shop owners and market traders I spoke to all know what’s gone wrong – and it really is common sense – something that the council doesn’t seem to have.
Problems include difficult access due to road works and seemingly continual, long lasting redevelopments “repairing the high street for the second time in 10 years is not the answer,” said one frustrated shopkeeper. In fact, this will be the second Christmas in a row that the High Street will have been dug up.
One trader remarked to me that entire housing estates were completed more quickly than the high street regeneration, where some works have had to be redone because of mistakes. Also, a lack of free parking and the reduction in the size of the market are all contributing to the continuing demise of the town centre, which started with the building of Teesside Retail Park and its many free parking spaces, back in the nineties. “The market used to extend the whole length of the High Street, and provided a great reason for people to walk the full length of the High Street and this brought me extra trade,” said one shop owner located just off the far end of the High Street. “It provided a great reason for people to come to Stockton.”
But now the market will never again have the opportunity to extend the full length of the High Street because the council are using the space instead to create a massive fountain. Shop owners and market traders are agreed that
this will be detrimental to commerce in Stockton centre, yet there is now no turning back on this flawed, yet expensive, vanity project, which in addition to taking up space that could be used by market stalls, will undoubtedly invite antisocial behaviour.
Parking issues, especially a lack of free parking on the High Street, are also a problem. There is free parking throughout the nearby Teesside Park, and two hours free parking in Middlesbrough. Both of these facts conspire to pull trade from Stockton. The Stockton council offer of free parking after 3pm in the run up to Christmas is not enough. “Stockton is dead after 3pm. Nobody wants to shop here then,” remarked one trader.
It should also be noted that parking will be free after 1pm in Redcar and Cleveland Council car parks for rest of the year. The sad fact of the matter is that the ‘regeneration’, costing £38 million, has damaged, not helped, both the shops and the market traders. You could have provided a lot of free parking with that sort of money.
In addition, there are a constant stream of trade fairs and events which take trade away. “People coming to a music festival do not want to buy goods from this shop, and people who do want to buy stay away whilst the festival is on.”
One shop owner told me she had spoken to consultants from the council to see how the situation could be improved, and she has received a small reduction on business rates. However, for the most part these “consultations” appear to be no more than a box ticking exercise and nothing ever changes.
So I would propose these “common sense” changes to boost the High Street:
- No more unnecessary redevelopments or vanity projects
- Two hours free parking every day
- Switch off the fountain on market days to allow more market stalls on the High Street.
- Provide free parking whenever the market is on, to encourage more people into Stockton and more market stalls to come to Stockton town centre. This measure would, I believe, actually raise revenue for the council.
It should be noted here that one of UKIP’s policies is to encourage councils to provide more free parking in town centres.