THE owners of a shopping centre have spoken after development plans caused controversy with local traders.
ESTAMA UK which owns the Newgate Shopping Centre in Bishop Auckland has responded to recent criticism to plans to move the Job Centre into three retail units.
The Department of Work and Pensions submitted a planning application to Durham County Council to move the Job Centre in the Newgate Centre.
The units would be merged to create the new Job Centre, however in doing so one of the entrances to the centre will have to be blocked off, in order to join the retail units up, cutting off Fore Bondgate.
This have caused controversy with the traders on Fore Bondgate who rely on the steady flow of people in and out the centre for trade.
A spokesperson for ESTAMA UK, asset manager of Newgate Shopping Centre, said: “We are working with Durham Council to drive new reasons to visit this area of town.
"The Council won its full bid for grant funding from Future High Streets Fund and is working with ESTAMA UK to build a new bus station and car park next to the proposed DWP unit.
"ESTAMA UK understands the DWP letting will bring multiple services together and improve the environment that DWP clients will use.
“The work will create more reasons to visit, bringing office workers, tourists and bus users to the area, increasing footfall and additional discretionary spend into local businesses around Newgate Shopping Centre.
“We are working with Roxy Nail Bar and Forces Support to provide new accommodation within Newgate Shopping Centre once they vacate their current units.
"ESTAMA UK has discussed the proposal to close the private walkway between New Look and Roxy Nail Bar, with the relevant parties involved.
"Future High Street Fund (FHSF) officers developed their bid proposals so users of the new multi storey car park and bus station will access Bondgate via an upgraded George Street and Finkle Street.
"Access to Newgate St will continue through the Newgate Centre. Footfall from Bondgate to Newgate Centre will make use of the upgraded public realm at George Street and Finkle Street.
"The FHSF and DWP developments will create more reasons to visit, bringing office workers, tourists and bus users to the area, increasing footfall and additional discretionary spend in to local businesses around Newgate Shopping Centre."
It is anticipated 90 DWP staff will occupy the new office at Newgate Shopping Centre, which will result in a significant increase in spends at local cafes, grab and go food operators and retailers.
Petitions have been set up both online and in person, to keep the entrance open, which have both gained a lot of support from residents.
Sam Zair of Zair’s café said: “I find their response very alarming.
"How on earth they can say that a DWP office can encourage tourists to Bishop Auckland.
"By submitting these plans to the planning department without having a discussion with them is even more alarming.
"They must think this is going to be a done deal, not if I can help it."
Bishop Auckland Town Councillor, Harley Balmer-Howieson, who started the online petition said: “The main concern we're raising in this petition, is the flow of the footfall which I, like many others fear will decrease footfall in different parts of the town because of the access changes.
“They don't seem to acknowledge this concern I am pleased hear that ESTAMA UK is supporting Roxy Nail Bar and Forces Support and there has been some consideration to the potential impact to the town, however, more must be done.
“If ESTAMA UK aren't seeking to alleviate these concerns and are leaving business owners along Fore Bondgate to worrying about the impact to their businesses and livelihoods, then that is a huge problem.”