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
Whitehall officials have been accused of trying to delay £760m of North East investment in a bid to find ‘election ready only’ spending projects.
Businesses and council leaders have jointly submitted a plan for growth as the region looks for a share of the Government’s £10bn local growth fund.
But after months spent compiling a wish list of jobs projects, including new railway lines and regeneration sites, ministers have now tried to force local enterprise partnerships to pick just a few priority schemes.
Cities minister Greg Clark has been told he risks setting back long term economic growth, with the leader of Newcastle Council Nick Forbes among those suggesting the move looks like an attempt to find an election boost.
If the Government insists on only funding schemes which are almost ready to go it would hand itself a list of ‘shovel ready’ projects that prioritise ministerial photo opportunities, city leaders have said.
Mr Forbes was among those who challenged the Government over its cash policy at a meeting with Mr Clark.
He said: “I raised the concerns when I met with Greg Clark last week. The Government haven’t just set a virtually impossible timetable for bids to the Local Growth Fund, they’ve changed the goalposts several times.
“Asking us, at the last minute, to prioritise schemes that are ‘shovel ready’ implies they are more concerned with projects that can be announced in the run-up to the election rather than those in the longer term interest of the region.”
The North East local enterprise partnership has refused to go along with the Government request, saying that it is wrong of the Government to ask businesses to spend months putting together a list of projects only to then change the criteria and ask for a new list with no clear indication as to how projects will be judged.
The region’s strategic economic plan will for now remain unchanged. Under the partnership’s preferred option, the Government would put £70m into a North East pot and let the region get on with building roads and clearing space for new firms. It would add to other cash for a North East Development and Investment Fund, handing the region £245m over five years to major developments.
If successful, the partnership says the overall plan could pave the way for an 11% increase in employment by 2024, suggesting some 10,000 jobs a year could be created.
Some £23m of local transport improvements are requested, including addressing traffic issues on the A185 and A19, work on the Lindisfarne Roundabout in South Tyneside and a Central Station Metro refurbishment.
Another £25m is asked for to pay for projects such as improvements to the A1 Scotswood Bridgehead, more work on the A19 near the Silverlink junction in North Tyneside and new funds to clear the way for roadworks behind Newcastle’s Central Station.
From 2016 onwards another £125m of funding is requested to help pay for the likes of a reopened Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway, a new relief road for Durham City Centre, a link road for Newcastle Airport and Gateshead Town Centre regeneration.
Source – Newcastle Journal 12 May 2014
Another £20m of cuts will see councils end their historic “paternal provider” role, a chief executive has admitted.
North Tyneside Council’s most senior official, Patrick Melia, has said the nature of local authorities will change to one that “steps in when people fall”.
The council needs to reduce its spending by 2018 by around £20m, and is now preparing to set out three years worth of spending plans as it looks at the next budget rounds.
Mr Melia said that if his £150m budget is “spent wisely we can still do a lot of good with it”.
Alongside that cash comes health spending, and money for schools, homes and building work which will still see some half a billion pounds spent in the borough, something the chief executive says is “a cause for optimism”.
The council official said that while he cannot rule out job losses at the council over the next three years, he could point to a strong record at the council of avoiding compulsory redundancies, and was hopeful to make the process as painless as possible.
He said: “Local government in the North East has been paternalistic. We have always wanted to care for people, with the recession we have had and the way things are we now have to help people to do these things for themselves, but to be there to catch people if they do it for themselves.
“We will be moving away from being a paternalistic provider of services to one that enables people to look after themselves, and reduce demand for services as a result.”
Mr Melia added: “We are working now on a plan that sees us think three years ahead. If our share of local spending is £150m by then how best do we spend that money?
“It means we have to redesign how we deliver services here.
“I think one thing we need to think about as part of that is we often talk of hard to reach people, but it is the council that can be hard to reach for some people.
“I mean the council knows where people live, but some people will just not come through the door of an official council building, so changing how we provide those services is something we will look at.”
Alongside that will come a continued focus on regeneration, with work continuing on the likes of the A19 Silverlink improvements, the redevelopment of Wallsend town centre and the various projects around Whitley Bay and the coast.
“We need to help businesses as much as people, to get people with the right skills to be where they are needed,” Mr Melia added.
Source – Newcastle Journal 16April 2014