Fears Blyth could become "ghost town" after Keel Row shopping centre closes down

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There are fears Blyth could turn into a “ghost town” if businesses in the doomed Keel Row shopping centre are not persuaded to stay, opposition councillors have claimed.

Northumberland County Council acquired Keel Row in July with the view to developing it into new education, innovation and leisure facilities as part of major plans to regenerate the town.

While the investment has been welcomed, there are now concerns that some of the businesses currently located there will leave town for good, removing a major draw to the town centre.

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Labour councillors have been petitioning for women’s fashion chain Bonmarche to be supported to relocate to another part of Blyth, rather than leaving altogether following the shopping centre’s planned closure early this year.

The Keel Row Shopping Centre in Blyth. Photo: NCJ Media.The Keel Row Shopping Centre in Blyth. Photo: NCJ Media.
The Keel Row Shopping Centre in Blyth. Photo: NCJ Media.

Cllr Kath Nisbet, who represents the Croft ward, said: “If Bonmarche and the other large chains go, we have only got little independent businesses in the town centre. What’s going to be happening in Blyth?

People will be forced to go to Cramlington. Elderly people want to shop in their own town. This is the largest town in Northumberland – this has really griped me. It’s just ridiculous, we’re going to end up with a ghost town.

“I appreciate the regeneration, but we need retail for those that can’t or don’t want to travel. We have got to try and keep them here. I’m passionate about Blyth – it’s my town and I’m born and bred here. We’ve got to try something, we can’t go down without a fight.”

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She said there had been a strong response to the petition, showing a clear appetite for the chain to remain in Blyth.

Fellow Blyth councillor Anna Watson, who represents the Isabella ward, added: “We just felt, as Labour councillors, although we understand about retail and that it’s not just Blyth, the Keel Row closing wasn’t part of the plan.

“Making it into the Energy Centre is fantastic for my kids, I want it to happen – but we don’t want to lose the only remaining big retailers. Bonmarche is one of the drivers of people coming into the town.

“It is very well used and it wouldn’t be closing if the Keel Row wasn’t closing. If they had an incentive, perhaps they would have moved – we don’t feel the council have done enough.

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“I can see the long-term vision, but I worry that there will be nothing left by then. We could become a ghost town.”

Northumberland County Council pointed out that the Keel Row shopping centre had been “struggling for years” and was no longer commercially viable, with just eight of the 20 units currently let.

A spokesman added: “The regeneration of Blyth town centre is key to this council. Anyone that has visited recently will see all the regeneration work that is taking place.

“From the STEM-focused Energy Central Learning Hub taking shape at Port of Blyth to the new cultural venue work starting on Market Place. Blyth really will be an enviable market town again, once developments reach completion.

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“Tenants at Keel Row Shopping Centre have been kept informed at every stage and the county council is working with all affected parties to provide support and to see if they can relocate in the town centre wherever possible, should they wish to do so, and offer support to employees.

“The council and their agent have been in regular contact with the tenants and have provided in writing, detailed information on the regeneration plans for the town centre encouraging all to stay in the town and relocate to alternative premises.

“For the past six months the council has made available a Keel Row Tenant Support Service, which includes a dedicated point of contact to assist with enquiries, troubleshooting and signposting for further support and advice to businesses about contacts in the town regarding potential vacant properties and to employees on managing finances, accessing benefits and finding a job or training and employability support should any employees be affected by any changes.

“We have also worked with traders throughout the town centre since the regeneration programme to keep them informed of developments, promote their businesses and encourage people to shop locally wherever possible.”