High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 11:28 am ar 26 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:28, 26 Ebrill 2024

I congratulate Jack Brereton on bringing forward such an important Bill. I think every Member of this House will have a problem high street that they feel frustrated about and cannot get any work done on. I hope he will allow me to talk about the success in my constituency, which I think echoes the sentiment of the Bill and shows what can be done when some of the things he wants to see in the Bill are achieved.

I want to talk about my hometown of North Shields. North Shields is probably best known for the Fish Quay. The Fish Quay is a shadow of its former self in one way, but because of a lot of work that has been done on development it is now thriving. It is full of restaurants and shops, and we have the fantastic North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project, which has done a lot to highlight and record the history of our town. Next year, North Shields will be celebrating its 800th anniversary. I lived in North Shields from when I was born until I was 19. We lived in an upstairs Tyneside flat and then, when I was 19, my family were thrilled to move to another great area of North Tyneside, Wallsend, into a brand new council house, when we still had council houses being built on a grand scale. That was 1976, so we can work out my age.

North Shields has two high streets. The one that runs parallel to the river east-west is Saville Street. The one that runs north-south is Bedford Street. As in many other town centres, there has been so much decline over the years. Various schemes have tried to bring the town centre back to life, but there have always been reasons why it has not really thrived. Town centres and high streets are so important because they bring communities together, with friends and family shopping and meeting in the same area. When I was young we went shopping on a Saturday, and we would not get very far along the high street before our mother saw a relative or friend, and there would be little groups of people chatting and going in and out of the shops. Our high streets were great community spaces. Going to high streets now is very sad, however, because there is no life in them. People are just going into the shops; one or two might gather to speak to each other, but that buzz has definitely gone.

However, North Tyneside Council developed a masterplan for the North Shields area, doing exactly what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South mentioned: bringing communities together to talk about what they want. What has helped with that is that there has been funding. North Shields has nearly £13 million for a transport hub and a new town square to transform the town, making it attractive and family-friendly again with a vibrant, high-quality high street feel.

The transport hub opened last September, and I was pleased to be there to see that happen. It is amazing. The money that helped transform it—the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will be able to mention this as an example—came from the transforming cities fund, which came via Transport North East with help from the North of Tyne Combined Authority and North Tyneside Council—as a proud former council member, I will never fail to sing the praises of the great Labour North Tyneside Council.

The transport hub is a major part of North Tyneside’s ambitious plan to improve North Shields. What is really fantastic about the hub is the public toilets, which are a vital part of any town centre and high street. In the past, because of antisocial behaviour, a lot of public toilets were closed, and shops do not always have toilets that people can use. Some people with medical conditions really need to know that there will be a toilet in the vicinity when they go out. I know someone with prostate cancer—this example is from my family experience—who carries a card that they can show to access a toilet, if no public toilets are available. But people do not want to have to do that; they want a bit more dignity and not to have to search around for a toilet.

The new bus station’s toilet facilities are fantastic. There are six individual cubicles, each with their own toilet and sink—everything is self-contained. I take the bus from Wallsend to North Shields, and so far the facilities are being well maintained. We might worry about what happens to such facilities in the town centre, but people are showing pride, and that is the key thing—the difference is that there is now pride in the town centre.

In the town square there is an area where people can sit—we are calling it the piazza, to be a bit posh in North Shields. Entertainment is also provided, and there is a big screen—we have already seen music there—and that is just off Bedford Street, which is now the main street. Saville Street, the other high street, is a lot quieter. People walk down Bedford Street and, halfway down, suddenly come across this wonderful piazza. Visitors who come on the metro or the bus get off and see this wonderful community facility in the heart of the shopping area. We have a green square a bit further over. The piazza is concrete—it has some plants—but it has a community feel.

The new hub is the council’s first building with fully carbon-neutral construction, and the council hopes to achieve carbon net zero by 2030. The hub is sustainable, and its design and materials are at the forefront. The building uses solar energy and manages waste surface water, which is particularly important. Art is being installed and, to include the community, there was a competition to design a memorial to one of North Shields’s most famous sons or daughters. The chosen memorial is to Thomas Brown, who received the George Medal after he retrieved the Enigma codes from a sinking boat, which shortened the war. He was only 16. Sadly, he died in a fire with his sister at their house not many months after coming home—he has a surviving brother and sister. He was overwhelmingly voted as the person who should be remembered in the town square, which will be named after him, which is lovely. I went to the opening of the memorial.

After developing somewhere on the high street to celebrate our local history and local heroes, North Shields now has a buzz about it. It looks good, and long may that continue. We have a shopping centre, the Beacon centre, from the town’s last revival 50 years ago, when I was in my teens—I keep wanting to think that it was only 40 years ago. [Laughter.] It is all right for you young ones.

I have always been proud of North Shields, and I have been saddened when our high street has not been able to thrive. I now see pride returning to the people of North Shields. People, young and old, are gathering, shopping and enjoying their high street. I hope this Bill can achieve for other town centres and high streets what North Shields has achieved by getting funding, and by people and communities working and coming together, to restore pride and interest in the town centre because of its thriving high street.