The Executive Member for Regeneration, Cllr Eric Polano, was in attendance to update the Board on his aims and aspirations, progress made to date and to highlight any emerging issues relating to his portfolio. The Director of Regeneration was also in attendance.
As part of his update to the Board, the Executive Member for Regeneration explained that his portfolio did not neatly match the way in which services were structured and the slides included in his presentation showed the way the portfolio was set out and how services were structured.
It was explained that the main areas of the portfolio were as follows:-
Transportation – designing how people get about (not the maintenance of the roads)
Inward investment – attracting money, people and jobs into Middlesbrough
Economic development – growing the jobs available in the town
Housing development – increasing the options for people wanting to live here
Planning – managing the long term look and functionality of the town
Building control – ensuring things were built correctly and safely
In terms of changing the town centre one of the main areas of focus was on converting Captain Cook Square into a leisure destination. Currently the town centre had too much retail space and insufficient leisure space. The Council had therefore purchased Captain Cook Square in an effort to redress the balance.
In respect of developing the concept of urban living it was explained that Middlehaven was the focal point for a significant amount of investment to create more houses and apartments for people wanting to live in the centre of town.
Boho X was another key area of focus and would deliver sixty thousand square feet of commercial space for the digital sector. In addition the Council was currently refurbishing the Captain Cook Pub and work would soon commence on the Old Town Hall to bring these buildings back to life.
Clearing up eyesore sites and properties was another high priority and it was advised that the Council was investing in buying up eyesore sites and properties that were blighting local communities. In terms of the Future High Streets Fund and the Towns Fund Middlesbrough had received in the region of £35m to spend on changing the town centre and Middlehaven, as well as some other parts of the town. Delivering housing growth was a further area of focus and the Council was working with house builders to deliver 400-500 new homes each year.
The Executive Member for Regeneration advised the Board that in respect of his own personal priorities the areas that he was most passionate about driving through were dealing with the eyesore sites and properties and getting more people into the town centre. It was advised that the Council had invested £1m into working with Middlesbrough Development Company (MDC) to buy up or refurbish properties in local communities that were ruining people’s lives. The Council was looking to tackle as many of these as possible and clean up some of the worst streets.
In terms of getting people into the town centre it was emphasised that there was a real need to encourage people to use the town centre again. However, we could no longer rely on people coming into the town centre to shop, as they would never to that in those numbers again.
In respect of what would be achieved over the next year it was anticipated that the following projects would be realised:-
• Captain Cook Square re-let to leisure operators
• Boho X open and occupied
• Hundreds of new homes underway in the centre of town
• Captain Cook pub brought back into use
• New community centres at Southlands and Nunthorpe
• Middlesbrough Station refurbished for the new London train
• Exchange Square regenerated
• New commercial space built on Centre Square (Melrose House site)
• Small sites brought back into use
• Tollesby shops replaced by new apartments
• Some key derelict properties brought back into use
Following the update in respect of the regeneration portfolio, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.
A Member enquired as to whether there was an intention to address the issues of eyesore business properties, for example, on Wilson Street. As although these were not the Council’s responsibility and they were the responsibility of private businesses and private landlords the Council’s efforts to renew areas of the town centre would be negated if neighbouring properties already in a state of disrepair were not improved. The Executive Member for Regeneration advised that efforts were being made to contact owners of derelict properties and encourage them to undertake the necessary repairs to their premises in the first instance. If efforts were unsuccessful then the Council would consider other options including purchasing / renovating the premises.
A Member of the Board queried the level of focus on the town centre to the detriment of other areas and the lack of infrastructure that was provided when new developments were approved. However, it was appreciated that the financial resources available to the town were limited and therefore had to be spent wisely.
In respect of the proposals for the development of the town centre and increased emphasis on the inclusion of leisure provision it was queried whether there was sufficient focus on retaining the current retail provision. The Executive Member of Regeneration advised that he fully appreciated the concerns raised, however, footfall in the town centre was declining and with the increase in online shopping and provision of out of town retail outlets future demand for town centre retail was forecast to decrease further. It was therefore imperative that action was taken now to diversify the offer available within the town centre. The Council therefore needed to accept that there would be a lot less demand for town centre retail in the future.
A Member of the Board made reference to the refurbishment of the Captain Cook pub and whether the intention was for the premises to operate as a pub once it was refurbished. It was advised that the intention was for the restoration to return the premises to a shell whereby an interested party could adapt the premises to meet its needs. Various proposals had been received recently including a proposal for the premises to be operated as a bistro; to be used as a headquarters for a digital company and to be converted into residential accommodation. Once the restoration work had been completed it would be put out to the open market, in order for expressions of interest to be received.
In terms of the restoration work undertaken by the Council in respect of the Captain Cook pub it was advised that once on site it had become apparent that more work was needed than initially envisaged. The Council was therefore undertaking the necessary works to ensure that all the mechanical and electrical issues had been addressed, as well as the refitting of the windows and the total cost would be in the region of £1.1m. This included Council capital that was approved previously, as well as some Town Fund investment funding.
In response to a query regarding the future development of Captain Cook Square it was advised that consultation with local residents would be undertaken prior to any approval of leisure developments.
In response to a query regarding the future of the Civic Centre site, Gurney House and Centre North East it was advised that the Council was currently working with the owners of both Gurney House and Centre North East to try and bring the premises back into use. The Council had resources available to it through the Towns Fund to help gap fund some of the viability issues in respect of those two buildings. The sheer size of the buildings did present a challenge as a trying to find one solution that worked at that scale was very difficult. There was the potential to convert one of them into a hotel, residential properties or a modern office, however, the level of investment required would be significant.
In respect of the Civic Centre it was advised that when the Council moved to Fountain Court in 2022 the Civic Centre site and building would be seen as a development opportunity. It was unknown at this stage as to whether the building would be presented to the open market first and then if there were no viable options the site second was yet to be resolved.
Reference was made to eyesore properties and specifically Douglas House and it was queried as to what was envisaged for this particular property. The point was also made that although there was a real need for eyesore properties in certain areas of the town to be addressed, for example in North Ormesby, the south of the town also required attention. In response it was acknowledged that the £1m recently set aside to tackle eyesore properties would not be sufficient to address all of the issues across the town. However, the need for work to be undertaken in respect of eyesore properties across the town was acknowledged.
In respect of Douglas House the Council had recently re-engaged with the owners of the property and owing to the availability of grant funding through the Towns Fund there was a possibility to utilise some of that support to close the viability gap and bring a proposal forward.
Reference was made to ambitious aims for 2021/22 and whether there was sufficient funding available for all of these projects to be realised. In respect of the projects referenced in was advised that these had been fully costed and funded to varying degrees. It was anticipated that these projects would be realised over the next year.
Clarification was sought in respect of the investment in addressing eyesore properties. It was confirmed that £1m had been set aside to tackle residential eyesore properties and a further £1m had been assigned to addressing issues with commercial properties.
In response to a query regarding the potential for a 4000-5000 seated arena to be developed in Middlesbrough it was advised that over the year’s consideration had been given to the feasibility of developing an arena in the town. Specialists had recently been employed to advise the local authority of the possible viability of such a proposal.
Reference was made to the high cost of bus fares at the moment and it was queried as to whether the Council regularly liaised with the bus companies in respect of such issues. It was confirmed that regular meetings with the bus companies were held, however, the bus companies were commercial operators and there was minimal influence the Council could have on the setting of fares.
The Chair thanked the Executive Member for Regeneration and Director of Regeneration for their attendance and contributions to the meeting.
AGREED that the information provided be noted, and the agreed action be undertaken.