Plans to demolish Stockton’s Castlegate Shopping Centre and Swallow Hotel have won praise in a hard-hitting report about the plight of the nation’s high streets in a post-COVID world.
The Build back better report, put together by an expert team led by straight-talking Bill Grimsey, says the pandemic has simply accelerated the shrinking of town centre retail.
It calls for councils to be given greater powers to fight back and change town centres, adding that local leadership, fewer cars, and more green and open spaces are needed.
And it cites Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s plans for a riverside park and land bridge as a strong example of what the nation’s councils should be doing.
“Covid-19 has exposed the weakness of private equity owned high streets that have squeezed all the value from their businesses and left communities hollowed out,” said Bill.
“We need to build local economies around people who have a proper stake in their communities, not distant investors who only see them as a number on their portfolio investment.
“Many town centres are still wedded to a 20th century mindset, but in places like Stockton the penny has well and truly dropped. Stockton’s shift towards a community hub concept, no longer simply reliant on retail, has been remarkable.
“The Council really has led the way there – it just gets it – and more need to follow.”
Councillor Nigel Cooke, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Housing, added: “This report is yet another endorsement of our work to lead a town centres fight back by stepping in and taking control in our town centres.
“We’ve been saying for some time that town centres can’t just be about big name shops any more. That was a sound conclusion even before this pandemic hit and is even more so now.
“Everybody knows that town centres are struggling, but we do still have some great shops both large and small in our town centres and the best way to support them is to do what we’re doing and get on with changing town centres for the better.
“And although this report features progress we’ve made in Stockton, we are doing all we can to help all six of our town centres – Billingham, Ingleby Barwick, Norton, Stockton, Thornaby and Yarm – be successful.”
Councillor Cooke added: “It was also nice to see The Hub, which offers free bike parking in a on Stockton High Street, get a mention in the report too. It’s the first centre of its kind in the UK.
“And it was a vacant old building in need of investment before we stepped in and brought it back into use.”