Wednesday, 24 October 2007


The front page of today’s Shields Gazette makes very interesting reading, with the news that campaigners against the planned development of Gypsies Green Stadium are to stage their own referendum on the project. The “Save Our Seafront Association” (SOS) a non political group of protesters, has decided to hold its own public consultation exercise in King Street this Saturday.

Anybody who thinks the adverse reactions to the proposals are a flash in the pan is very much mistaken. I attended a meeting of SOS this week and found them to be a determined, coherent and committed section of the population who not only have the ability to see this campaign become a success, but have the advantage of sheer determination and foresight. The Council would be well served to remember the words “Fellgate” and “Steve Harrison”.

Clearly, this issue has created a clear divide between those for and those against the plans. Local bloggers are also firmly planted in respective camps. My position has been made clear; I am against the sale and in favour of some form of community leisure development on the site. Other commentators, notably Curly at his Corner Shop, are for the proposal. And why not, such is his prerogative and genuine concern for the Borough’s well being. However, he is of the opinion that the Borough has a majority in favour of the plans, sighting amongst other things the 57% margin of approval from his blog poll. This negates the fact that people who visit his site in the main also share his views, that’s why they read his columns. The view is also propagated that protesters are against change, which is a very ill informed view as they are clearly not. Mondays SOS meeting was unanimous in its view that redevelopment was needed, but with the town faced with a quickly aging leisure infrastructure and with obesity concerns gaining prominence, then the time was perfect for some form of development to improve on these concerns. A hotel with a private spa is clearly not the answer. Arguments also ignore mooted plans to knock down the Roker Hotel and replace it with a more modern conference based hotel (this is also a Tavistock project. How do they financially manage such developments? That’s a lot of pizzas being sold!). Does this council really think that two such facilities in close proximity can be sustained?

The planned development of Gypsies Green Stadium is systematic of South Tyneside’s less than cohesive policy and attitude to development. If it looks old and rundown, bull doze it and let a developer have it for a song. Such a view is short-sighted, economically suicidal and represents nothing short of asset stripping. However, like the plans to force a development on green field sites in Fellgate, the public as docile as some people think. Forget blog site pools and fake Council consultation exercises, the battle will be fought through the use of the Freedom of Information Act, open public meetings and public protests. This issue now has a momentum of its own, with clear lines being drawn as to how it will progress.

Perhaps council officials and mandarins should have spent a little bit more time on the Gypsies Green running track, because they have a marathon on their hands!

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