Locals have mixed feelings about a £55 million commercial development proposal in Middlesbrough.
The proposal involves the construction of a £35 million retail and leisure scheme in the Middlehaven area of the town, as well as the £20 million redevelopment of nearby Wilson Street.
So far, the plans have been unanimously backed by Middlesbrough Council, which believes the scheme could provide a boost to the local economy. Middlehaven ward councillor John McPartland believes the development is particularly important in tackling the issue of youth unemployment.
He says; “It means jobs for younger people, in particular at a time when we are struggling as a town, as a region and as a country to find jobs. There are so many young people unemployed.”
According to data released by the developer Terrace Hill, the project would create 300 jobs during the construction process and a further 820 positions in retail upon completion. Additionally, as Sainsbury’s is in early discussions regarding the closure of the chain’s Wilson Street store in favour of a larger 80,000 square foot food store and filling station, the development would safeguard the jobs of the 230 existing staff members.
Perhaps most significantly, an additional £9 million in wages per annum would be added to the local economy, raising the consumer confidence of the area and thereby benefiting local businesses.
However, not all local business figures welcome the prospective investment, claiming the retail scheme could prove detrimental to the local high street trade. The major concern is that, rather than drawing new retailers to the area, the Gateway Middlehaven complex would instead encourage retailers to give up high street commercial properties in favour of new units in the modern shopping centre – this fear has been compounded by Sainsbury’s interest in the relocation of its Wilson Street store.
Graham Soult, an independent retail analyst based in the North East, admits that “it’s a welcome investment at a time when other schemes are being cancelled or postponed.”
Yet he adds; “But if it’s done badly it could have a negative impact. It’s important to see who signs up for the retail units – there aren’t that many retailers who aren’t already represented who would wish to be.
“My concern would be if the new developments pull retailers out of the town centre who are already there.”
This sentiment was echoed by head of member relations at North East Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Anderson. She believes turning down the investment would be a mistake, yet admits that there is something of a risk for the town centre.
She says; “We will not know whether the Middlehaven Gateway will take too much trade out of the town centre until it is built, but on balance we think it is worth the risk.”
Do you think retail developments are important for the progression of recovery in the retail industry, or do you think they hinder the growth of small local businesses?
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