LIB DEM COUNCILLORS CALL FOR NEW FOCUS ON NEWCASTLE'S LOCAL SHOPPING STREETS

September 13, 2012 8:30 AM

Opposition Lib Dem councillors on Newcastle City Council are calling on the authority to do more to ensure the benefit of a £100,000 Government grant for local high streets in Newcastle is spread citywide, following a rarely-used scrutiny call-in hearing at the Civic Centre this week.

Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone requested a call-in of a cabinet member's decision to allocate all of the funding to Shields Road in the East End. While the scrutiny panel concluded that this decision should not be overturned, there was cross-party agreement that the city council is not doing enough to safeguard local retail vitality in neighbourhood shopping areas across the city.

A share of Government High Street Innovation Fund money was awarded to Newcastle, along with 99 other councils, after three local bids to the "Portas Pilot" initiative led by TV "Queen of Shops" Mary Portas were unsuccessful, including a council-led proposal for Shields Road and independently-led proposals for the High Bridge Quarter and Gosforth High Street.

Opposition spokesman on development Greg Stone said "We felt it was important to ask for further scrutiny of this decision, which was taken unilaterally by the cabinet member representing the Shields Road area, as we would have preferred to have seen wider deliberation of the issue by all councillors. Whilst we fully accept that Shields Road is in need of support and revitalisation, we also feel that other shopping areas in the city could usefully use help and support. Councillors on the scrutiny panel were strongly supportive of calls to devise new city-wide planning policies for neighbourhood shopping areas."

"We very much hope that the planned use of funding to help Shields Road pays dividends in the long term, but Opposition councillors felt it was appropriate to scrutinise the proposal carefully as we were concerned that the background report was lacking in detail. We also expressed the view that the council needs to do more to devise a robust planning framework for local shopping areas.

"Some areas, such as Welbeck Road, Adelaide Terrace, and the West Road may be able to benefit from additional help. At the same time, we would like to see encouragement given to trader-led groups who are doing commendable work to enhance areas like High Bridge in the city centre, and the proposed Gosforth High Street improvement district."

"In addition to looking at how traders' groups can be assisted, empty premises renovated, and the 'street scene' and public realm enhanced, Lib Dem councillors believe there is a case to be made for introducing planning policies which do more to control the retail mix. We would like to see the council use neighbourhood planning powers to restrict the spread of certain businesses which may harm retail vitality, including pawnbrokers, moneylenders, and takeaways, and we will be using the scrutiny process to monitor the administration's progress."