Members of Bishop Auckland Town Council wish to share their views on the planning application from the Department of Work and Pensions concerning the relocation of Bishop Auckland’s Job Centre to the Newgate Centre and the subsequent closure of the pedestrian entrance from Fore Bondgate, Bishop Auckland.
High quality retail space is vitally important to maintain and improve the retail and leisure offer of Bishop Auckland, and it is agreed by members that losing such space in the only purpose built retail centre in the town would be detrimental to both the businesses currently located in the Newgate Centre, those impacted by the closure of the pedestrian access route located on Fore Bondgate as well as the detrimental impact to any future investment in the town.
Members recognise that investment is needed in the Newgate Centre and the town as a whole, to reduce the number of vacant units. However, members note it does not make financial sense to create a large premises in the Newgate Centre without first looking to use one of the numerous vacant retail units located on the main shopping thoroughfares throughout Bishop Auckland. It is felt by members that there are various sites throughout the town centre that would be a more suitable offer for the relocated Job Centre. Using such a prominent retail space and cutting off access to the historic Fore Bondgate shops, for use Job Centre, isn’t fitting with the aspirations of the Durham County Council Bishop Auckland Masterplan or the Town Council Plan.
Members feel that the current Job Centre, in Vinovium House is ideally located for all members of the community at it is close to good public transport networks and offers a degree of confidentiality to the service users. Moving the Job Centre to the proposed site in the Newgate Centre not only reduces the access for pedestrians to Fore Bondgate, it reduces the accessibility to the whole Newgate Shopping centre by removing the disabled car parking spaces located in the area of the proposed closure. Additionally, moving to a more central location may negatively affect the service users needing access to the Job Centre.
Members are strongly opposed to the option of the planned external alterations including amendment to fenestrations and the related closure of the pedestrian access as they feel that this proposal would create many detrimental barriers for residents and visitors to Bishop Auckland, particularly disabled persons, as they access the centre via the pedestrian access and the Fore Bondgate shops from the disabled parking bays, in Finkle Street.
Members are of the opinion that an alternative site should be sourced for the Job Centre and therefore the external alterations resulting in the closure of the pedestrian access would not be required.
Members have been fully supportive of all the work by Durham County Council and partners to increase investment in the town, and welcomed the success of the Future High Streets Fund Bid and welcome the changes it will bring, however they are greatly concerned that this proposal may negatively impact upon the Stronger Towns funding bid which looks to further revitalise the town.
There are five key ambitions that make up the “Regeneration Statement” from Durham County Council, the planned closure of the pedestrian access from Fore Bondgate into the Newgate Centre directly goes against three of these:
- Vibrant and successful towns
- Competitive and successful people
- A top location for businesses
The Council find it quite alarming that centre owners ESTAMA UK made some deceiving quotes in the their statement to the Northern Echo this week. They stated that the work would bring more ‘Tourists’ to the town, where there is no evidence that this is true, as the proposed DWP facility is not a tourist attraction, and it would provide a service local people not tourists.
They also state that the 90 employees at the development will also bring spend and footfall to the town centre businesses. These aren’t an additional 90 employees, these majority of them are workers who are already employed at the existing DWP facility located in the town. Members are also aware that like many other businesses, the majority of these DWP workers have been working from home, during the pandemic and are likely to adapt a ratioed model of office cover as Covid restrictions ease.
Members therefore urge Durham County Council to work with the Town Council to explore further location options for the Job Centre so retail business can use the prime space in the Newgate Centre whilst leaving the heavily used pedestrian access to Fore Bondgate in place.