Letters, Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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Action needed to help city flourish

AT the State of the City Event on December 3, the audience was told that 31 per cent of all questions tabled related to the economic health and wellbeing of the city centre.

 Residents are dissatisfied with the present ‘retail offer’ within the centre.

 The closure of Jopling’s department store, Monsoon and Accessorize, Michael de Leon, the Hornby concession, formerly housed in the now closed Toymaster store, and the limited range in the Sunderland branches of Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, all force residents to shop in Newcastle, the MetroCentre, Boundary Mill and Dalton Park.

 While Sunderland’s catchment area has a weak economic base and therefore cannot emulate Newcastle and the MetroCentre, we feel that, as a historically large city in its own right, it is punching below its weight when compared with, say Middlesbrough, an even more deprived area in socio-economic terms.

 In order to boost footfall and encourage a wider range of shops, the council should encourage the establishment of a second department store in the former Primark store in Fawcett Street, with, as a spin-off middle market, quality shops in the empty units in High Street West, between Mackies Corner and John Street, or on the site of the former Crowtree Leisure Centre.

 The council should also reassess its car parking charges to encourage more shoppers into the city. Free parking after 3pm in the run up to Christmas was a welcome step, but all-year-round reductions are required to put Sunderland on a more equal footing with other centres.

 Middlesbrough, for example has the first two hours free and thereafter £1 per hour. Consideration should also be given to the provision of a car park in the southern part of the city centre, possibly in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Holmeside Triangle, and park and ride facilities on the main approach road into Sunderland itself.

 A document, containing a socio-economic profile of the city, should be circulated to commercial agents, both local and national, and to major retailers, not currently represented in Sunderland, in order to promote the city centre.

 A fourth measure, to be taken, should be the corporate promotion of the centre (not just The Bridges) in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce and the City Centre Business Association on a regional basis, using all aspects of the media, including television advertising.

 In the light of the recent report by the Distressed Town Centres Task Force, and bearing in mind the large number of vacant shops within the city centre, it may be desirable to consider more radical uses for ‘fringe’ areas including conversions to residential use.

 We are sure that all residents and organisations in the city want to see the centre flourish again and we hope our comments will be taken in that spirit.

Michael Gray (on behalf of Sunderland Civic Society),

Thornhill, and John Tumman, Ashbrooke

It’s a clear choice

THE recent focus on Margaret Thatcher’s role in bringing Nissan to the North East is an interesting glimpse into the past, but it shouldn’t detract from the more pressing issue of the plant’s future.

 The North East is the only area in the UK to export more than it imports, and Nissan’s £4.6bn in overseas sales accounts for around a third of the regional total.

 Nissan, along with countless other companies in the region, has been the beneficiary of substantial EU fundings, most recently securing £189m to support its electric car and battery production.

 No one underestimates the importance of Nissan to the North East. Yet its good work is being undermined by eurosceptics agitating for an EU exit.

 Nissan’s CEO has made clear that the company might reconsider its investment if the UK were to pull out of the EU. This warning is one we would do well to bear in mind as the European elections approach this May.

 While Thatcher’s exact role 30 years ago is uncertain, the choice facing people in 2014 is very clear: in Europe, in work; out of Europe, out of work.

Angelika Schneider

Lib Dem MEP candidate