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How to save Redcar's town centre
Artist's impression of Redcar's vertical pier
An artist's impression of Redcar's vertical pier, which will stand 80ft tall on Redcar's seafront

In November 2010, Redcar and Cleveland Council approved plans for a £30m vertical pier, as part of the latest redevelopment to stop Redcar's decline.

The 80ft structure on Redcar seafront is part of a development that also includes 'The Hub'.

The Hub is being built at the Palace Cinema site on the Esplanade, as a base for creative and digital industries.

The pier proposal proved controversial, but was carried by nine votes to one.

BBC Tees' Martin Forster takes a look at the challenges facing Redcar Town Centre.

Doom and gloom

There are shops and there's certainly no shortage of people on Redcar High Street, but most of them take no prompting to talk about 'better days'.

Spending an afternoon on the High Street asking people what they'd like to hear BBC Tees talking about, the town centre's decline was by far the most common topic.

Artist's impression of 'The Hub'
The Hub is designed to be a glamorous location for creative companies

"If we lose the racecourse, you might as well close the gates on this town!" A woman waved dismissively, as she strode past me through the biting wind.

I'd been talking with a group of other people, but the subject is so open, so publicly unanimous, she felt she could just join in as she passed.

Once a proud seaside resort, more recently a magnet for young arcade gamers, Redcar town centre has struggled over the past two decades to find a role for itself.

It is maybe that proud past that makes Redcar's decline so hard to stomach. I grew up playing in Redcar's arcades, staining my face yellow with lemon top ice-creams and getting dragged around Uptons by my mother.

The wonderland of my childhood is now, more than anything, cold. Weather aside though, the decline has taken a very visible toll.

With 15 charity shops, Redcar has more than any other town in the North East. It has also increased its lead as the number one town in the region for 'pound shops', with eight operating in the town centre, two more than its nearest rival Sunderland.

Redcar steelworks
It brought employment, but Redcar Steelworks does nothing for the view

That is not to say the town still does not have plenty to offer. There are still good fish and chips to be had, if you are willing to walk, and Coatham beach is building a nationwide reputation in the new sport of kite surfing.

Nevertheless Redcar is, in some ways, a victim of many of the factors that once made it a prime location.

The proximity of heavy industry that once brought so many day-trippers has more recently brought redundancy and left the town with a view punctuated by cooling towers and a now mothballed blast furnace.

The seaside location that brought the tourist money lost its pull in the 80s and 90s, as seaside holidays in Britain declined in the face of affordable foreign travel.

And as internet and out-of-town shopping pulls customers away, only bigger, regional town centres, or small, quaint character high streets with boutique shops are still thriving. Redcar is too small to be the former, too big to be the latter.

If at first you don't succeed
Redcar's seven point plan
1. Improve the environment: So far, 50 shabby shops have had match-funding to improve their frontages. The council has made 'virtual shops' by putting giant photos over empty units.
2. Keep the town centre safe and secure.
3. Partnership: A body of retailers, local and voluntary organisations has been set up to tell the council what they feel the town needs.
4. Improve the retail offering: Presently, the town has too many low cost shops, meaning customers wanting higher quality goods are shopping elsewhere.
5. Tourism: The vertical pier is part of the plan to bring more visitors to the town.
6. Leisure: The redevelopment of the town centre will include a new swimming pool.
7. Establish the town's unique selling point.

Over three years in the mid 1990s, as home games consoles began to charm customers away from Redcar's seafront amusement arcades, tens of thousands of pounds was spent revamping Redcar seafront.

Five years later, huge swathes of the Lord Street area were demolished to make way for a new shopping street and Morrisons supermarket.

Today, the council has a seven point plan to sell itself and, in the past year, has reduced shop unit vacancies from around 70 out of 411 available units, to 39.

Town Centre Manager Pat Cambage believes that re-branding and selling the town is possible. "We've already tested this out on some big retail groups.

"We said, 'Here's a mystery town' and we gave them the facts and statistics and asked them if they'd be interested in going there and they all said yes."

For all the plans and investment though, many people you talk to in the town remain to be convinced that a vertical pier, or anything else on the table for that matter, will bring back Redcar's heyday.




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