Tourism is one of South Tyneside’s key strengths, and it is vital to the social and economic future of our region.
- Project: South Shields Foreshore
- Objectives: Extend the visitor season by four months; increase visitor numbers by 20%; increase visitor expenditure by 50%; improve overnight accommodation; improve links to the town centre/Ocean Road; improve all-weather attractions/activities; expand the visitor offer with new activities; expand the demographic of visitors to include higher spenders and overnight visitors
- Timescale: 2008 – ongoing
- Cost to authority: £35.6m
- Officer contact details: Martin Swales
By investing in our foreshore we have enhanced the customer experience for our visitors and created an environment for private sector growth, helping to sustain our economy in the longer term.
It was clear when we started the regeneration of the foreshore that we had to attract and invest public money as a catalyst for private sector investment.
We have levered in funding to upgrade sewers, strengthen coastal defences and regenerate seaside towns in order to encourage visitors.
The hard facts speak for themselves. Since embarking on a programme of regeneration in 2008 we have increased the number of visitors by more than 500,000 and now attract over two million people a year. In 2013 we saw an increase of 10% on the previous year.
The stunning South Shields foreshore, with its broad soft sand beaches, funfair, amusements and an extensive green hinterland of formal parks and recreation grounds, presented a huge opportunity to expand our overall resident and visitor offer.
As a key priority for the council, the project was driven forward by our leader Iain Malcolm (Lab), who personally chaired the steering group.
Partnership working has been key to progress. Our steering group includes the National Trust and external partners; the public and private sector working hand in hand.
A £2m investment in the public realm through funding from Sea Change, the Department for Media, Culture & Sports £45m regeneration programme, has seen a dramatic change in the appearance and perceptions of the foreshore, which has in turn generated private sector confidence. Local business Dunes Adventure Island, for example, has invested £2m into its operation.
As well as improving the foreshore aesthetically there have been significant flood defences installed at both Littlehaven and North Marine Park. The £2.6m Northumbrian Water scheme to upgrade the sewer system at North Marine Park has seen more than 400m of new sewer pipes installed, as well as an underground storm water storage tank with capacity for three million litres of rainwater.
At Littlehaven, the award-winning £5.3m project funded by a combination of Environment Agency, local transport plan and council money, not only provides a new promenade for residents and visitors to enjoy a coastal walk with spectacular views but also a much-needed sea defence along a 500-metre stretch between the South Groyne and the South Pier of the River Tyne.
The key activities at the foreshore are focused around the natural assets of the beach, sea and parks, which provide the opportunity for a variety of pursuits and events.
The traditional entertainment centres on Ocean Beach Pleasure Park provide indoor and outdoor traditional family seaside entertainment. This offer was further complemented in October 2013 by the new £16m Haven Point swimming and leisure complex, which offers families a fantastic range of all-weather leisure activities. Collectively, the new pool, indoor and outdoor leisure and the high-quality parks provide an unrivalled seaside offer on the north-east coast.
A key objective of the council is to harness regeneration success to increase the visitor expenditure from £12 per visit to at least £20. Linking the activities at the foreshore with Ocean Road and the town centre will be essential in securing a longer visitor stay and greater expenditure. Ultimately, expanding the South Shields offer through new hotels and self-catering accommodation will help increase visitor numbers and length of stay resulting in greater expenditure in the local economy.
New figures show that tourism in South Shields directly supports about 1,800 jobs a year, 55% of which are in hotels and restaurants.
While we wish to grow the range of activities at the foreshore, it is also very important to sustain the excellent offer we currently provide. In harsh economic times it is important that it remains an accessible and affordable attraction which is open to all residents and visitors.
Through the economic challenges of the past four years we have been determined to maintain our focus on economic growth and regeneration for the long term, inspiring confidence and a belief that we can deliver our ambitious plans. Work along the foreshore has done just that and we continue to push forward our regeneration programmes across the borough.
Regeneration work on South Shields town centre and at the Riverside are further connecting the foreshore with these other areas, which is essential to maximise visitors and expenditure in the area and provide a holistic visitor experience. These are three distinct areas but they must complement each other and provide a seamless transition from one to another while still retaining their individual character and function.
We have achieved a great deal but we are not complacent. Our ambitions extend along the foreshore and up to Souter Lighthouse as we look to embark on the next phase of this exciting regeneration project.
In taking the foreshore forward it is essential that new activities help extend the holiday season beyond the summer months and provide economic activity from early spring, through the summer and well into the autumn. Ultimately, an all-year-round foreshore offer is our goal.
Martin Swales, chief executive, South Tyneside MBC