PLANS to build a visitor centre for one of South Tyneside’s major attractions have been shelved.
After listening to local residents and community groups, South Tyneside councillors have decided not to go ahead with a proposal to develop the centre for Arbeia Roman fort on the Lawe Top at South Shields.
The fort is rated as one of the main cultural assets in South Tyneside.
It is part of Hadrian’s Wall world heritage site and has provided many significant archaeological finds.
Over the last 20 years a series of reconstructions have taken place, including one of the gatehouses, the fort commander’s quarters and barracks.
The existing museum on the site is very limited and any development on the existing site would conflict with its status as a scheduled ancient monument and archaeological remains within the site.
The council’s cabinet was told that it was clear that the further development of Arbeia as a visitor attraction is being held back by the existing facilities and its ability to contribute to the broader tourism offer in South Tyneside.
In recognition of the need to improve the facilities at Arbeia, consultants Pan Leisure were appointed to undertake feasibility work and consultation on the concept of a new visitor and exhibition centre outside the fort on the Lawe Top.
Now the cabinet has asked for more public consultation and has instructed Pan Leisure, to consider alternative schemes for an improved visitor facility for the fort. But John Wood, lead member for resources and a local ward councillor, said that this would not be on the Lawe Top.
The cabinet was told that following several public meetings, residents and local ward councillors made it clear that they had concerns that the centre, which would have featured a viewing tower, would restrict views out to sea and cause parking problems.
Coun Wood said the proposed scheme was “totally unacceptable to local people”.
He said: “From the very outset I said this was an ill-conceived idea and an absolute no-go, especially the high tower. Residents are not opposed to expanding visitor attractions at the fort, or to attracting better tourist facilities to the area, but they want to see a development which complements the historical and natural beauty of the Lawe Top and does not cause parking chaos.”
Tony Duggan the council’s head of cultural services, said: “The development of the visitor centre is a medium to long term project and no funding is currently allocated for it. On the basis of the consultation the council has taken residents’ views into consideration and will not proceed with the current options but will work with local residents to look at other site options.”