MARINA visitors have given a thumbs down to the once-thriving tourist attraction after concerned business bosses carried out a survey to try and find out why people are staying away.
Neil Evans, who runs the Black Olive Bar, in Navigation Point, has been a tenant at the marina for the last 12 years having previously owned Coffee Rappor and North Star.
But he fears for the long-term future of the marina area after seeing a number of rival businesses, including the once successful Lotus Garden, shut up shop, many after the introduction of controversial car parking charges for visitors.
In an effort to try and find out people’s concerns, Neil, with the backing of other businesses along Navigation Point, created a survey asking visitors for their opinion on the general appearance of the marina and the car parking issue.
Of 159 forms which were handed back in, 130 responses gave negative feedback.
And Neil claims the response confirms his own fears that what he describes as a lack of investment in the area is leading to visitors turning their backs on what was once described as Hartlepool’s “jewel in the crown”.
Bosses at Mandale, the firm which operates the commercial side of the marina, insisted work to keep the area at a high standard was “ongoing” but acknowledged some areas were in need of being freshened up.
Neil said: “People don’t enjoy coming down here at the moment, and that is for a variety of reasons as the responses to this survey highlights.
“The car parking charge is a big thing and business notably dropped off when they were brought in.
“People don’t want to get halfway through a coffee or a meal before having to jump up and put money in the meter to void getting a costly fine.
“They won’t come here and spend a few hours wandering around, maybe calling in somewhere for a bite to eat, then somewhere else for a coffee, then have a nice walk around the boats with an ice cream.
“They are clock-watching, they’ll come down, do what they have to do, then go.
“The general appearance of the area as whole has gone downhill as well. If something isn’t done we’ll just end up falling into the dock.
“The paint is peeling off the railings, there are electrical boxes with wires hanging out, there is dog mess dotted about and the fronts of the bars and shops are looking shabby.”
He added: “Restaurants are closing down, and not being replaced.
“We lost Tabbarini’s, the steak house and more recently Lotus Garden.
“The Lotus Garden was the biggest place down here, people would go there then head into other bars along Navigation Point.
“That is a huge loss to us all, but I fear other restaurants will end up closing as well. A few years ago this was the place to be. Places would close when their lease ran out, but someone else would be waiting to jump into the breach.
“That isn’t happening now. Potential clients will drive down here, see the amount of for sale signs going up and the lack of trade, and look elsewhere.”
Neil added: “We’ve all heard about Hartlepool Vision, and that is great for the town. As a local lad, I’d like nothing better than to see the town thriving. But my message to the council and the developers would be not to forget about us.
“This was once the jewel in the crown, everything is in place for it to be successful once again, but that isn’t going to happen if we continue to get neglected.
“We pay high rents and service charges, and we deserve better.”
OF the 159 questionnaires distributed to Navigation Point visitors, the vast majority – 130 – said they were put off by car parking charges and didn’t visit as often as they did prior to the meters being installed.
The responses were also heavily of the opinion that the marina in general was falling into a state of disrepair.
One visitor said: “Because of the number of empty buildings, it is starting to look a bit tired and tatty. I used to regularly meet friends for coffee, but because of the charges we come less frequently.”
Another described the overall area as “disappointing” and added: “There is litter, the drains are smelly, and the weeds on the paths add to the general air of neglection in Hartlepool’s jewel in the crown.”
The amount of litter along the water’s edge was raised as a concern by one respondent, while another said: “It leaves a lot to be desired. There seems to have been no investment for years, it’s very shabby.”
One customer said the area was quickly becoming an “eyesore”, adding: “General maintenance is very poor. It was sold as the jewel in the crown but is in danger of becoming an eyesore. I would doubt the Tall Ships would ever return given the general state of disrepair.”
They went on: “If parking charges were used to help maintain the area then they would be acceptable, however this doesn’t look like it is happening.”
The marina was described as “a ghost town” on another form, which said: “There are more lights off than there are on. Parking fees have contributed to the amount of visitors coming down. No customers, no business, no revenue. That’s why places are closing.”
There were some positive comments in the replies, with one visitor saying: “The marina is generally nice and tidy, and it looks very nice on a night when the lights are on the bars and restaurants.”
Another added: “I think the marina is a great place to visit and bring guests. The upkeep is of a good standard.”