Back to square one

Church Square 18th August 2011. Picture by FRANK REID
Church Square 18th August 2011. Picture by FRANK REID

PLANS to transform a town centre square have been dropped amid fears the cost would top £1m.

Hartlepool Borough Council hoped to spend £520,000 to transform Church Square as part of wider plans to boost town centre businesses.

But it has emerged a 30-year loan for the scheme would see the costs more than double to £1.3m – which has led to work being deferred.

Now businesses have expressed disappointment that the scheme will not go ahead until the council’s finances are in better shape.

Councillors say that of the initial £520,000 price tag, the council planned to use £130,000 from its own funds for major regeneration schemes.

It would have borrowed the remaining £390,000 which would have been repaid at a rate of £39,000 a year over 30 years, totalling £1.17m.

The aim of the revamp was to encourage businesses to move into some of the empty shop units to serve the hundreds of college students with the creation of an education quarter.

The first phase would have included increased pedestrianisation of Church Square, expansion of the grassed area around Hartlepool Art Gallery, re-surfacing and extra seating and planting.

The road around Church Square was also set to be altered to reduce the impact of traffic.

Councillor Peter Jackson decided to defer the proposals indefinitely at a portfolio meeting.

Coun Jackson said: “These substantial proposals would certainly improve this key area of the town centre, complement the nearby recent developments such as the new college and hopefully encourage businesses to occupy some of the vacant shop units around the square.

“Moreover, the recent consultation showed considerable support for this scheme.

“When considering the amount of investment involved – including the element of borrowing which would have been required – it must also be remembered that the scheme would save on much of the maintenance currently required simply to keep the Church Square area in its present condition.

“However, even with all this in mind, I felt very clearly that the council could not proceed with this scheme at the present time given the current economic climate and the severe financial pressures which the council faces.

“It is therefore on hold and I do not see that position changing for several years.”

A public consultation got 232 responses and 70 per cent said they were in favour.

The news has been welcomed by Councillor Ray Wells, Conservative group leader on the council.

Coun Wells said: “I welcome Councillor Jackson’s decision to defer it.

“Everybody we have spoken to has said there is nothing wrong with Church Square.

“It was going to cost almost £1.5 million for effectively some new flag stones and a few trees.

“We hope that those funds set aside can now be put to better use to serve the people of the town.”

BUSINESSES have given a mixed reaction to the news that Hartlepool Borough Council has shelved plans to revamp Church Square.

Some believe the plans would have helped breathe new life into the area, but others think in the current climate it would have been a waste of money.

Businessman ADAM BOUABDA, who owns Flix Movie Cafe, in Church Square, said: “Nothing is certain in life, but I feel this would have helped regenerate the area and bring new businesses in.

“It is a shame and I am quite shocked.

“A regeneration of Church Square is much needed. We have a great area here, but nobody comes to it.

“Both of the colleges have invested a lot of money and I think the council should be helping the regeneration of the area.

“We were hoping to create a campus feel which would attract new businesses.

“Money is tight for everyone at the moment and I suppose it is just one of those things.”

ERIC WEI, who owns Hollywood Nail Salon, in Church Square, said: “I think the plans would have brought new customers to this part of town.

“With better seating and improvements to the square it would have boosted business, especially if the footfall increased.

“It is very quiet along here between Monday and Thursday.

“I can’t really comment on the funding but it would have helped regenerate the area,” added the 29-year-old, who lives in Newcastle.

But TRINA GLASS, who runs TG’s salon in Church Square, believes the area is not in desperate need of a face-lift.

The 34-year-old, who has run the salon for eight years and lives in Raby Road, said: “Part of the plans included removing some of the access road and that would have been a problem for some businesses along here.

“Also, the road was recently resurfaced for the Tall Ships Races and some of the paving had been done before then.

“It would have been nice to have some more seating and more grassed areas for people but it was going to cost a lot of money and I think it would have been a waste.

“There are other things to spend the money on.”