Tagged: King Street

Even charity shops are struggling to survive in South Shields

Charity does not begin at home in South Tyneside – with fundraising shops in the borough’s main retail area facing tough times.

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals’ outlet in King Street, South Shields, closed its doors at the weekend.

A spokesman for the charity said it had a temporary lease and had decided not to renew after it ran out.

Apart from removing a source of much-needed income for the charity, the move also leaves yet another vacant premises in the town centre.

It is just the latest retailer to call it a day in the once-thriving street – and others admit they are struggling.

Despite some claims that King Street is “full of charity shops” there are now only two fundraising premises there – Marie Curie Cancer Care and the British Heart Foundation.

However, both outlets say they are facing challenges amid falling footfall and the “M&S factor”.

The iconic retailer’s exit from the town earlier this year is having a negative ripple effect on fellow retailers.

Lisa Burles, manager of the BHS shop, said:

“The closure of Marks & Spencer hit us really badly and the footfall in King Street has fallen significantly.

“We have really struggled since March when the shop had a refit. We had a better month last month because of the weather, but we have dipped again.

“You just have to look at the till transactions to see the reduction in customer numbers. Having said that, we’ve been here 20 years and we’re not intending to go anywhere soon.”

A PDSA spokesperson said:

“Our South Shields shop on King Street was run on a temporary lease. We always review all our shops when their leases come up for renewal. We often have to make difficult decisions to ensure the kind donations we receive are used most effectively and, regrettably on this occasion, we had to close our South Shields shop.

“We are extremely grateful for the dedication of all our staff and volunteers, and for the loyalty of our customers in South Shields. We would also like to reassure pet owners in the area that PDSA’s veterinary services are unaffected by this decision.”

A spokeswoman for Marie Curie Cancer Care shop, beside the street’s Metro station, said: “We’re getting by, but it’s a tough climate out there.”

Source – Shields Gazette, 18 Sept 2014

South Shields MP’s queries ‘batted off’ by minister

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck says a Government minister gave her the cold shoulder during a Parliamentary debate she had secured on the future of struggling high streets.

 She put Brandon Lewis, under-secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on the spot during the debate, which made particular reference to the economic downturn’s impact on the King Street shopping thoroughfare in her own constituency.

The MP had made a fact-finding visit to the street to talk to traders before the Parliamentary debate and raised concerns at the high levels of business rates being charged.

In his response, Mr Lewis praised the “great work” being done to revive high streets nationwide and highlighted the ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan, saying that if high streets were to survive they needed to be “more than simply places to shop”.

Mr Lewis said: “Many local councils are committed to the regeneration of their town centres and to longer-term programmes, such as the £100 million plan, South Shields 365, which aims to regenerate the area. The plan includes a new central library and digital media centre; improvements to the market square and the public realm; new integrated transport, retail, leisure and cinema facilities. If high streets are to remain at the heart of our communities, they need to be more than simply places to shop.”

But during a heated debate, the minister refused on three occasions to allow Mrs Lewell-Buck to interject with questions.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “On three or four occasions I asked the minister to give way because he was saying things that were simply not correct, but he refused to do so. The minister batted off criticisms and blamed everyone else for the Government’s failures.

“He made reference to local authorities now being able to discount business rates by 100 per cent. But the Local Government Association clearly states that most councils can’t use those powers because they are costly and bureaucratic.

“He also made reference to lifting planning restrictions to allow flexibility on our high streets, but that has merely allowed an increase in businesses such as pawnbrokers and taken away control from local councils.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck said she would be attempting to raise her concerns again at Department of Communities and Local Governments’ questions in Parliament on Monday.

Source –  Shields Gazette,  28 June 2014

‘Cut rates to help our struggling shops’ says South Shields MP

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has called on the Government to cut business rates to give South Shields’ struggling shops a chance to survive.

 The plight of her constituency’s beleaguered shopping centre was raised in Parliament last night in an adjournment debate with High Street minister Brandon Lewis.

The move came amid concern for the retail viability of the town centre, following the recent departure of such big-name outlets as Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.

To prepare for the debate, Mrs Lewell-Buck paid a fact-finding visit to King Street to find out what the main concerns of traders are.

She said that the clear message was an alarming decline in both income and customer numbers in the last two years – and the high cost of business rates.

She said: “Shops in King Street have reported that footfall is down in the last two or three years, at the same time as incomes are being squeezed and families have less money to spend.”

Last night, Ms Lewell-Buck called on the minister to take more action to cut business rates.

One in 10 businesses now spends more on business rates than rent. Rates have risen by an average of £1,500 under the coalition.

“The Government also delayed the revaluation of business rates, which many firms have said means business owners in smaller towns are paying unfairly high levels compared to those in London and the South East.

“The Government relaxed planning rules in a way that has made it easier for betting shops and payday lenders to cluster on high streets, giving shoppers less incentive to visit.”

‘Trade is at its worst for 20 years’

Emma Lewell-Buck’s intervention has been welcomed by the traders she visited, including Lesley-Annz ladies’ fashion shop in the Market Place and Premier Furnishings and Carpets in King Street.

 Michael Blake, owner of Premier Furnishings, has revealed he pays a whopping £600 a week in rates – twice as much as he pays in rent.

And in the last four years he has seen profits fall from up to £12,000 a week to between £700 to £2,000 a week.

He said: “I do appreciate the fact that she made the effort to come and see us and I hope this achieves something.

“We’re really suffering at the hands of competition from internet shopping, and parking is also a big issue.

“I have people in here who say after 10 minutes that they have to dash – because their car is on a meter. Shoppers can’t relax.”

Lesley Dawson, owner of Lesley-Annz fashions, said: “Just take a look around. It is shocking. There’s no shops. There’s nothing.

“I have been in the trade 20 years and this is the worst I have known it.

“We have lost so much footfall since Wouldhave House and Franchis cafe were demolished. We know there’s a new library to be built on the site, but that’s two years away. That’s a long time.”

Source – Shields Gazette, 27 June 2014

Woman stole DVDs to sell to buy food after benefits stopped

> Yet another case of benefit sanctions leading to crime…

A woman went stole items from the same South Tyneside store as she was struggling for cash following a benefits sanction.

 Sarah Stanton snatched DVDs worth a total of nearly £145 during three raids at WH Smith in King Street, South Shields.

The 27-year-old admitted three counts of shop theft at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court.

Stanton, of Craster Avenue, Shiremoor, North Tyneside, carried out the thefts on Wednesday, March 26, Saturday, April 5 and Monday, April 7.

She stole a DVD box set and a Blu-Ray disc worth £54.98 in the first offence, took DVDs valued at £60 during the second theft and DVDs worth £30 in the final offence.

Jonathan Moore, prosecuting, said: “The thefts were from WH Smith in King Street.

“On Saturday, April 5, a store manager on duty did a check at 3.40pm and noticed a Game of Thrones DVD was missing.

“CCTV was viewed and a female was seen selecting DVDs worth £60 and left without making any attempt to pay.”

On April 8, Stanton was again spotted on CCTV taking more DVDs on footage from the day previous.

She was arrested while selling on the DVDs at another store in the town.

When arested, she also admitted the first theft from March 26.

Paul Kennedy, defending, said: “At the time this lady had her benefits sanctioned.  She didn’t have any money and was living at a friend’s house. She sold the items on to get money to buy food.

These offences occured because she was in a difficult financial situation.”

She was given a 12-month conditional discharge by magistrates and ordered to pay compensation of £144.98 to the retail chain.

Source – Shields Gazette,  10 June 2014

South Shields – even charity shops are closing down

Charity shops in South Shields town centre are being hit by a “Marks & Spencer effect”.

 The retail giant vacated the town’s King Street on March 29.

Now some local charity stores say that has resulted in a noticeable reduction in footfall in and around the town centre, threatening their continued existence.

The Age UK outlet has just closed its Fowler Street store after profits plummeted and now St Clare’s Hospice has admitted its nearby store may also need to consider closure.

David Briers, chief executive of Age UK South Tyneside, said the decision of M&S to move out of the town proved a particularly “big blow”.

He expressed hopes that a new premises could be found as part of the council’s £100m ‘365’ masterplan to regenerate the town centre, but admitted “real disappointment” after the charity’s income-generating shop had to close its doors.

That decision had become increasingly inevitable in recent months.

The outlet was taking around £2,000 a week just 18 months ago, but that figure had fallen to between £700 to £800 this year.

Mr Briers added: “Closure was not a decision we took lightly, but the closure of Marks and Spencer was a particularly big blow.

“The footfall in the town centre is just not very good now and our income in the last 18 months has fallen by more than half.

“This coincided with an agreed policy nationally to close under-performing shops and the lease being up for renewal on the Fowler Street premises.

“There was also a double blow with South Tyneside Council phasing out discretionary rate relief. Profits were falling but rents were remaining the same.“

“I’m really disappointed we don’t have a shop in South Tyneside now that generates income for the charity and provides a good service and good quality toys and clothes for families on lower incomes.

“But we remain committed that if a suitable site becomes available, perhaps as part of 365, we will look at the situation again.”

David Hall, chief executive for St Clare’s Hospice, admitted the long term future of its Fowler Street store was also uncertain, again citing the M&S effect.

He said: “We have noticed a drop off in trade in recent times. Marks and Spencer and other big high street names obviously drew people into town.

“We’ll be considering the future of the premises when a release clause on the lease can be activated in a couple of years time.”

Lynn Hansom, of the Salvation Army shop in Fowler Street, added: “M&S was obviously a big loss, a lot of the older generation went there because of the quality of goods and we’ve felt the impact. Thankfully, we still have loyal customers.”

Marks & Spencer re-located staff at its King Street store to its Silverlink outlet in North Tyneside.

The closure angered loyal customers in South Tyneside, with thousands signing a  petition urging the company to consider returning to new premises in the town at the earliest opportunity.

Council officials stressed its commitment to supporting borough retailers.

A council spokesman said: “We know that the economic climate is making things tough for retailers.

“This is by no means a problem confined to King Street, with high streets across the country facing tremendous pressure and competition from out of town retail outlets and internet shopping.

“We are doing everything we can to support South Shields Town Centre and only this week revealed the first steps in our very exciting masterplan for the area.

“Working with our development partner, Muse, the 365 vision will help us to create a vibrant town centre, offering a high quality shopping and leisure experience and helping to draw in more shoppers.

“We are not complacent and hope our investment in the town centre will act as a catalyst for further economic growth in the future.”

Meanwhile, a charity shop boss has expressed concern for the long-term future of Fowler Street in South Shields.

 A section of the street is to be demolished as part of the town’s long-term ‘365’ regeneration strategy.

But in the meantime the top half of the street, on the road towards the town hall, looks “desperate”.

That’s the view of Helen Hill, manager and director of the Feline Friends charity shop in nearby Winchester Street.

She said: “Apart from the pizza shop there’s no reason to go up that part of the street and there’s uncertainty about plans for the block across the road which is due to be flattened as part of the 365 plan.

“We manage to get by because of our regular customers but we could do with the street being more vibrant.”

A source for the Scope charity shop, in Fowler Street, said the charity would “monitor” the impact the closure of the nearby Age UK shop has on its own trade, adding: “Obviously there is a concern its closure could result in a knock-on effect for other traders.”

Source – Shields Gazette,  05 June 2014

South Shields MP seeks High Street debate in Parliament

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck is hoping to spark a debate in Parliament on the state of UK high streets – after admitting the decline of the town’s main shopping thoroughfare “breaks my heart”.

 The MP has become alarmed at the number of retail outlets closing in King Street over recent months.

The decision by  Marks and Spencer to exit the town after 80 years was a particular body blow.

However, other retailers have left or are about to leave, including Mothercare, Thorntons, Internacionale and Greggs restaurant.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I’m looking in the very near future either to get a debate in Parliament, or if not, write to communities secretary Eric Pickles, about what the Government intends to do to support our high streets.

“It’s really sad that we have got shops leaving King Street. People automatically say ‘oh, it’s the council’s fault’, but the council does not set business rates and they don’t own those buildings.

“It’s the Government that sets business rates and Labour’s got plans to cut and freeze business rates, and for an energy price freeze to help small business.

“I don’t understand why the Government won’t implement those things because it would actually see a revival of our high streets. I was in King Street recently and it was really sad to see. I used to go there when I was a kid. Each time I see  that another shop is closing, it breaks my heart. I think the Government needs to do something about this. They can’t just sit on their laurels.

“Of course, it’s not something which is particular to South Shields, it is happening across the country. I’m going to try and get a debate in Parliament.

“If I can’t get that I will at least write to Eric Pickles and I will give the Gazette a copy of his response, so people can see that I’m at least trying to do something.”

Town Hall bosses have no control on either the setting of rents in the street or on rate levels, which are set by central Government and merely collected locally by the council.

A council spokesman told the Gazette recently that business rates are a “major bone of contention” – but explained that they are set by Government, not the council.

South Tyneside gets to keep 50 per cent of the business rates it collects in the borough, with the other 50 per cent going into a central Government pot.

Out of that, a proportion is redistributed to the council to recognise the local authority’s financial needs.

The last revaluation of properties for rating purposes was carried out in 2008, the next being proposed for 2017.

The council itself pays business rates for its offices, schools, day centres and all other buildings it occupies, in exactly the same way as other private sector occupiers.

Source – Shields Gazette  30 April 2014

South Tyneside – NHS Whistleblower stands for Independent Socialist Party

A man who blew the whistle on poor care for the elderly at a South Shields nursing home is aiming to fly the flag for socialism at next month’s local elections.

Phil Brown is standing for the Independent Socialist Party in the town’s Horsley Hill ward on Thursday, May 22.

Born and raised on “The Hill”, the 59-year-old married father-of-two is the son of Cathy Brown, a former Labour mayor of South Tyneside.

In 2005, the NHS nurse of 37 years raised concerns at failings in care given to residents at the privately-owned Bamburgh Court Care Home in South Shields.

And last year he stood for MP in a Parliamentary by-election after the resignation of Labour’s David Miliband, finishing in fifth place with 776 votes.

Although he retains a warmth towards Labour, he has grown disillusioned with the party and is unconvinced its leader Ed Miliband can lead it to victory at next year’s General Election.

On a local level he will be campaigning on the need for extra traffic calming meaures, parking spaces and police and warden patrols in Horsley Hill.

In South Shields generally his concerns lie with the “collapse of commerce” in the retail centre of King Street and the town centre, but he remains supportive of the ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan to regenerate the area.

Mr Brown, of Leafield Crescent, South Shields, said he was hopeful he could make an impact next month.

This is me going back to my roots. Ironically, it was my mother who helped make Horsley Hill a Labour stronghold by helping see-off the Progressives.

“Part of me will always be Labour but I honestly don’t think Ed Miliband has what it takes.

“I’m not afraid to use the word ‘socialism’. That’s what the Labour Party was built on.”

The other candidates standing in Horsley Hill are: Eileen Leask (Labour); Marilyn Huartt (Conservative) and Kelly Anne Loftus (UKIP).

Source – Shields Gazette  29 April 2014

Begging ‘blight’ on South Shields town centre

FEARS are growing over a rise in beggars who are “blighting” South Shields town centre.

Police, traders and charity workers have all expressed concern over an increase in the number operating in South Shields Town Centre.

Where once it was rare to see homeless people in street doorways it is now commonplace, with up to six individuals in the centre at any one time.

Gazette research has located several locations in and around King Street where beggars have been operating.

These have included outside of McDonald’s restaurant, the PDSA charity shop in the Market Place, the doorway of a vacant premises beside the British Heart Foundation, Lloyds Bank, at the Games Workshop in the Denmark Centre and at Morrisons in Ocean Road.

Today, the public were advised to give food and clothing to beggars but not money, as many are believed to be using cash handed over to buy drugs and alcohol.

Gill Peterson, assistant manager at Age UK in the Denmark Centre, regularly has beggars operating on either side of her shop.

Mrs Peterson says she has reached the “end of her tether” at their activities, claiming they scare off customers, hurl abuse and rifle through bins at the back of the premises.

She added: “I’m sick of them. They scare customers off, particularly our elderly ones and we are losing trade as a result.

“Any money they get just goes on buying bottles of cider. Every morning, I have to get in early to sort out the bins they have emptied through the night.

“If I approach them, I just get a mouthful of abuse. They are blighting the town.”

Amelia Luffrum, project director with Hospitality and Hope, the borough-based food bank and soup kitchen, said the public should only offer beggars food.

She said: “Homelessness is definitely rising from our experience.

“Some of the people who are out in these doorways, asking for money, come to our soup kitchens. They are in genuine need.

“Dependency on drink and drugs is a major issue. Our policy is never to give money. We feed them, give them sleeping bags and clothes, and direct them to different agencies.”

Neighbourhood Inspector Peter Sutton, of the Riverside Police Team, acknowledged there was a problem and said the situation was being monitored.

He added: “We are aware of the issue and are actively working with our partners on how the situation can be addressed, as concerns have been raised around criminality and vulnerability.”

Latest statistics show a 54 per cent rise in people seeking homelessness assistance from the local authority last year, from 187 to 534.

The impact of welfare reforms, including the ‘bedroom tax’, and a struggling economy, are among the reasons for the increase.

Source – Shields Gazette, 20 Jan 2014