The 'forgotten corner' of North Yorkshire whose residents have been 'sold a lie for 25 years'

Redcar and Cleveland Council decided late last year to shelve a near £7m regeneration scheme for the shopping precinct in Eston, which was to be anchored by a major supermarket.

The move, blamed partly on rising costs, has been described as just a “pause” while discussions take place with a view to a potential replacement scheme.

But it has been roundly criticised nonetheless by a number of local politicians, especially given previous failed attempts to regenerate the town centre.

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Some have labelled Eston a “forgotten corner” with other parts of the borough in line for multi-million investment, thanks in part due to Government funds.

Eston Square

Local Democracy Reporter Stuart Arnold paid a visit to the precinct, off Eston Square, to assess the mood of local business owners and ask where next for them.

“With the right kind of investment this place could be a goldmine,” said Helen Fisher, the boss of greeting cards shop Katies Cardz, which has been in one of the precinct units for nearly 16 years.

Plenty might argue, but as she speaks with such a passion I’m reluctant to be one of them.

Her business was one of a handful anticipating moving into new premises had work on the latest scheme – due to be funded by council borrowing and cash from the Tees Valley Combined Authority – gone ahead as planned later this year.

Helen Fisher, the boss of greeting cards shop Katies Cardz

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Now she describes being in the “last chance saloon” with the card shop due to close imminently.

“If it isn’t going to happen [the regeneration scheme] then the council should buy it [the precinct] and flatten it for houses,” she said grimly.

“Three times since we’ve had this shop the council and a developer have come to us saying you are getting knocked down, we need you out by a certain date, then they come and say it doesn’t matter, we don’t want it after all.

Yvonne Haley

“I’ve taken no party bookings for this year thinking we weren’t going to be here and they have done it to us again.

“For 25 years the landlords have been told don’t spend your money to the point now where these buildings need thousands to be [spent on] them.

“We believe [the precinct] has been deliberately left to rack and ruin, Eston is the district centre, but we don’t get nothing, the Trunk Road [development] is the new district centre.”

Ms Fisher describes how the walls in the shop are deteriorating, there is mould in a bathroom and the shop is impossible to heat.

Nonetheless she would rather not be anywhere else, but is reluctantly, together with a business partner, considering moving the business to another area, while planning to move her remaining stock into storage in the meantime.

“People believe now this is never going to happen, people feel they have been sold a lie for the past 25 years,” she said.

“Someone on the council needs to have a big enough pair of balls and come out and say it’s never going to happen and this is why. We wouldn’t like it, but at least we’d know where we stand because you can’t live a life like this.”

Outside a few pigeons flap about on nearby roofs, while an elderly woman draws hard on a cigarette in a bus shelter.

It’s a bright sunny afternoon, not overly cold for a January day, but to say there is lack of activity in the precinct would be an understatement, there’s barely anyone to be seen, bar the odd passer-by.

Around the corner Yvonne Haley runs Little Miracle Clothing, inspired by her first granddaughter who was born prematurely, and has been in the precinct for nearly three years.

“I thought I was in the right area with Eston getting regenerated, but it has all fallen through again,” she said.

“The aim was to give it a go until a refurb and see what happens, but the last year has been totally horrendous on a business and on a personal basis.

“We are not making a profit, we are getting by month by month. Is it worthwhile to keep struggling? No-one from the council has ever been to the shop to say this or that is happening, it’s all word of mouth.”

Mrs Haley claims “nobody really comes to Eston Square”.

“There’s nothing for nobody, we need a supermarket, a butcher’s, a fruit and veg shop, things like that.”

As I wander through the precinct I do a quick tally up in my head of how many units are filled, as opposed to closed. It’s a narrow victory by 11 to ten, but a somewhat pyrrhic one.

An estate agent stands alone in one row, while on Mrs Haley’s side there’s only one other shop unit with any visible signage on it, the rest have shutters down.

There are some businesses though that seem quite content with their lot and it’s not all doom and gloom.

I go in a newly refurbished gym and a hairdresser’s and while staff do not want to talk on the record, it’s made plain they have no desire to move and the respective ventures are doing quite well thank you.

Sharon Square is the proprietor of The Salsa Shack, a family run restaurant and takeaway serving up Mexican food. It only opened in October last year.

“Business is alright, although there isn’t much footfall,” she said.

“I think the council does whatever it wants to do, but it would be nice [a regeneration scheme] to bring some life back into the place. Small businesses do bring some character and for the old people around here they like to have a chit chat, maybe sit and have a cup of tea or coffee.

“Some days we can have a table full outside and it’s lovely. You wouldn’t get that with a big supermarket.”

Mrs Square said the precinct doesn’t need knocking down – “that would be a shame” – but it could be built-up with some money put into it, “rather than it just being there”.

“It could be made more presentable, there are things falling off over there and rubbish all out in the back,” she said. “But we can’t do it by ourselves.”

She mentions a recent Christmas market which had a “good buzz” and suggests there could be more such events.

“Not everyone wants to stay, particularly those who have been here for a few years and may have had enough,” she added. "We do though, we love it, it’s our first business.”

Assisting in the shop, James Thickett said it would not take much for a turnaround for the precinct and the Eston district.

“It’s not rocket science – if they built more shops, drop the rates, get more people in and footfall and more people spending money, they’d soon get the money back”, he said.

“Let’s be fair there’s a child’s clothing shop over the way and us. Over the other side of the road it’s hairdressers and takeaways as far as the eye can see, what else have you got?”

I have a quick walk around the rest of the square before I depart, popping into grocers T & TA Cradock, which has been in Eston since the late 1960s.

The man behind the counter doesn’t wish to give his name, but asked about Eston precinct, he said: “They have been going to do something over there for 30 years and it has never materialised. I will believe it when I see it.”