DILAPIDATED areas of the town centre have been labelled a “disgrace” and a “disgusting eyesore”, and leaders have lamented a lack of progress in redeveloping the area – but a new plan to transform a stagnating Teesside town has been launched.  

Recognising the “mess” town centres are in, from declining footfall to shuttered shops, political leaders in Middlesbrough have vowed that change starts now.

“Everyone’s facing this dilemma, this problem,” Independent mayor Andy Preston said when unveiling his plan to business leaders and regional stakeholders. “It’s not a Middlesbrough problem, it’s a problem for everywhere. What’s different here is that we’ve got a plan. It’s actually being executed now.”

That plan includes creating a Development Corporation to focus on the town centre, Middlehaven and the Zetland Historic Quarter as well as the Boho zone, Middlesbrough Station, the Northern School of Art, Centre Square, Teesside University. It is hoped that it will be established by the end of October when it can borrow money and implement compulsory purchase orders while most of the public land in the area will be transferred over to it.

Read more: How Middlesbrough Development Corporation will transform town

The derelict former Peacocks store in Captain Cook Square is set to become a new esports gaming venue, and it was there on Monday where Mr Preston and Tees Valley’s Ben Houchen unveiled their ambitious proposal for the area.

Middlesbrough was recently identified as the place in the UK most in need of "levelling up". The town scores badly compared to other areas on employment rate (67 per cent), weekly pay levels, and being able to take public transport or drive to a large employment centre.

The Northern Echo: How money will be spent in improving the town centreHow money will be spent in improving the town centre

Politicians, councils and officials have tried, and failed, to reverse decades of decline on many occasions yet Mr Preston believes he holds the key to unlock the town’s potential.

His plan for town centres includes building more accommodation and making the areas safer and cleaner. “Almost no housing has been built for decades and that’s a crime and that’s a part of the problem we’ve got,” he added. “It’s contributing to the mess Middlesbrough is in.”

The new esports venue will be the first of its kind in the region and a new entertainment centre hosting bars and a go-karting track is also part of the plan to redevelop Captain Cook Square, which the Development Corporation outlined as an area of investment.

The former Crown pub, on Linthorpe Road, is branded “an embarrassment” when people visit the town but is viewed as an opportunity for investment despite its prolonged decaying facade.  

Yet the assessment that Middlesbrough is the fifth most deprived local authority in England and has become more deprived since 2015 is a shocking reality.  

“We’re not doing it fast enough,” Mr Preston told the crowd. He lamented a lack of progress among previous council administrations due to political differences. He said: “Councils are riddled with politics and bureaucracy and fear. That means despite their heroic efforts progress is really slow. We need to turbo charge it, we need to electrify it and we need to do it differently."

The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough was recently identified as the place in the UK most in need of "levelling up"Middlesbrough was recently identified as the place in the UK most in need of "levelling up"

Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said the town’s politics of the past and present has hindered its progress and contributed to developments hitting the buffers. Speaking on Monday, he highlighted how previous “masterplans” for the area have failed to materialise.

“The number of resources, people, public money spent by the local authority for the last 30 years on places like Middlehaven, with nice shiny pictures, great ideas, but has turned into nothing is something that we should all be really sad about.

“Great ideas don’t put food on the table, don’t create jobs, don’t create an environment that we actually want to invest in and live.  

“Middlesbrough needs to become a destination place that people want to come and spend time, it needs to be a place that people feel like it’s on the move because if we’re not careful will ultimately fall behind the major cities in the country which will ultimately damage investment not just in Middlesbrough but across the region.”

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