How We Built Britain
The North Dock as it stands today
As part of the How We Built Britain series, we looked at how the old mining coastal village of Seaham is getting a face-lift and community boost with recent regeneration intiatives.
As a response to the collapse of the coal mining industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Easington District Council commissioned a regeneration strategy in 1994 to fight the imminent unemployment by encouraging businesses to establish themselves in the region.
That strategy is finally taking on a shape that people can see and take part in with an increased sense of community as a result.
There is still activity in North Dock
For generations, Seaham had a strong belief in its mining industry as the source of employment and income. When the mines closed, the region went into decline and something had to be done. Senior Regeneration Officer Emma Coates at Easington District Council talks to us about the original aim of their regeneration strategy:
"It was to try and change the economic life of the town. It had three large pits in Seaham and it has suffered greatly as a result of them closing so it was to change the economic emphasis of the town from mining to something different to try and combat the unemployment levels and all that was left of the demise of the mining industry."
Looks or purpose?
In the regeneration strategy, commercial developments like the retail centre Byron Place aims to let people do their shopping locally and with the investments into the North Dock the anticipations are that it will attract tourism and with that more jobs.
Emma Coates, Senior Regeneration Officer
With all these new plans in place to spruce up Seaham, how important is the look of the new town?
"From a visual point of view, it's trying to raise the bar a bit, in terms of quality of design and quality of place.
"[Seaham] suffers from anti-social behaviour and things like that in the town-centre at the moment, but it's hoped that by raising the bar on what's been expected and proving that we can have high quality developments in an area like this it sort of spurs [people in Seaham] on to take more pride in their town."
Finding your way in Seaham
One of those places where it's hoped "the bar will be raised" is North Dock. This is where a lot of Seaham's attention is focused, besides the commercial venture of Byron Place and it is has already attracted interest and praise from the locals.
When the mining industry died, the previous port owners shut its gates to the public due to the risk of liability issues if the public harmed themselves in the dock. The new owners worked with the district council in trying to find ways of re-opening the dock and for the local community to be able to use the local landmark.
Tom Westwick grew up in Seaham and says that he's happy to see what is happening:
"It's a marvellous change to what it was before, it's really brightened the place up.
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
"Not so many years ago we had three collieries here and everything was covered in pit dust. It's nice to come out now and have a walk around the sea front, it is more like a sea front now that what it used to.
"If all the plans go ahead and we got our new marina and different developments it's going to be quite a place to live in."
The first of three phases
Emma Coates explains the three phases which the development work for the North Dock will be going through:
"Phase one is as you see it today really. There's access back down there, we've resurfaced areas and there's some seating areas. It's just safer for people to have a wander round.
One of the remaining fishing boats
"Phase two is going to be the economic side of things, we're looking to put a new workshop unit in there to foster new marine related industries and hopefully there'll be a café.
"Then we're also looking at putting in dock gates to keep the water levels in the North Dock constant all day and pontoons as well so that we can get up to 75 boats moored in the area.
"Phase three is all about the historical restoration of the site so it's sea defence works, coastal footpaths, reinstating coal chutes it's all about how it used to look."
All throughout the planning process of the new-look Seaham, the public have been invited to give their views. Public consultations have taken place for North Dock, Byron Place and St John's Square and Emma says the plans have mostly been greeted with open arms:
Byron Place in development
"The North Dock's been a real community-based project, and we've had so much positive response for the North Dock it's unbelievable. Everybody's so pleased it's back up and open. Nobody has gone 'you better shut that back up again'.
Some of the bigger developments, you're always going to get people who aren't quite so keen on the design, but you can't always please every single person out there, but generally speaking, everyone's really chuffed with the developments that are going on in the town."
Tom Westwick agrees with the positive attitudes. He says:
Remnants of a by-gone age
"It's nice to see the town starting to thrive a little bit again. We went through hard times when all the pits closed and there were a lot of depression around but it all seems to be pulling itself around again.
"I'm quite happy down here. In fact, I'm sorry we've moved a little bit out of here in Murton!" he says and laughs.
last updated: 31/03/2008 at 15:13