I am pleased to read about the proposed Masterplan to regenerate Hartlepool town centre, albeit equally sceptical of its likelihood to be achieved. But whilst I welcome the intentions behind it, I will stand up for YOUR hard-earned and highly-taxed money to be spent wisely.
It would be fantastic if the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which has transformed many similar sites elsewhere, were to create a wider visitors complex at the Maritime Experience and Jackson’s Landing. Hartlepool’s historic ships and museum are such fantastic attractions and deserve more to be made of them.
The town desperately needs to create greater connectivity within it, linking retail areas like York Road, Middleton Grange and the retail park to tourist and leisure facilities like the football ground, the cinema and the Maritime Experience, and beyond to the impressive restaurants and cafes on the marina. At present, anybody visiting the town would not logically go from one to another, unless they had prior knowledge. Anybody arriving at the train station for the first time would have little clue what facilities we have to offer.
Far from shouting about them, we seem determined to hide our best resources. Middleton Grange is largely obscured from the view of passing motorists. The cinema looks lonely next to a couple of fast food joints. The marina is an enormous asset but we are doing its businesses a huge disservice by leaving them stuck out on a limb.
The town centres that are most successful are those that provide residents and visitors with a whole package for their day or night-time activities. People should be able to go for a drink before going to the cinema; or a curry after a football match; or enjoy fish & chips on the water’s edge after visiting the Trincomalee. At the moment each of these sites are dotted around without obvious pathways or signage between them, separated not just by significant distance but also by hard-to-cross busy roads. It shows an historic lack of coherent strategy from the Labour council, which I hope this Masterplan changes.
The council also needs to push or remove barriers to further development of the quayside area, particularly the vast open wasteland that sits outside the Travelodge. This is such a squandered area, at present littered with rubbish and rubble. In the absence of development proposals, this could painlessly be cleaned up, levelled out, and used as an open space for sports and leisure activities.
I also welcome the proposals to move a council depot away from the middle of town and onto an industrial estate, although this would have to recoup at least the £3m it takes to move it. It is completely unnecessary for council owned buildings to be sitting on high-priced prime land that could be used by others, the income from which could fund further regeneration or lower the exorbitant council tax rates for Hartlepool residents.
Whilst I support the principle of regeneration, enhanced connectivity within the town and job creation, I don’t do this unconditionally or without calling into question elements of the proposals which appear to propose ‘change for the sake of change’ whilst wasting bucket-loads of taxpayers’ money.
The proposals to knock down Mill House Leisure Centre and build a new facility elsewhere is a case in point. I am a former lifeguard, swimming teacher and sports centre supervisor myself, and Mill House is as good, or better, than many I’ve worked in. It is not the most beautiful building, but it is functional, and it continues to function for its prime purpose. Just like the council depot, there is no need for a facility like this, which requires a huge amount of floorspace and car-parking, to take up valuable land next to a shopping centre. Instead we should be seeking to improve the walk between the existing retail area and the current leisure centre, whilst encouraging shops and cafes to open units along that path and around the destination.
It seems to me that the Labour council’s default position is to bulldoze and rebuild at great expense rather than consider what can be renovated, adapted and upgraded within existing buildings and facilities. This represents a cavalier attitude to spending the public’s money and helps to explain why Hartlepool’s council tax is the third highest in Britain (although recently frozen due to the Conservative government and local Conservative councillor's). Meanwhile, beautiful historic buildings that are crying out for restoration sit dilapidated.
This way of thinking – destroy and rebuild, rather than adapt and upgrade – is precisely one of the reasons why we are now in such a mess with local hospital services.
I will support regeneration and job creation, whilst fighting for every pound of YOUR money to be spent wisely and to be used as an investment which will bring greater returns to the town, helping to lower tax bills for local residents and businesses.