BATTLING cobbler Tony Martin is closing his shop because of falling trade and a hefty rates bill.

Mr Martin, who has received national publicity for his one-man campaign against local bureaucracy, will shut down next month, on Saturday, August 4.

The family business has operated in Claypath since 1854 but Mr Martin, of North Shields, says takings have plunged in recent years.

"Ten years ago there were four people working here but since the post office closed and yellow lines were put outside the shop two years ago the trade has gone,'' he said.

"Claypath, like other parts of the city, is dying. I can tell you what the shop will become - an estate agents.

"I'm hoping to get a place in one of the stores in the city. If I can't, people will be able to leave their shoes at the newsagents down the road and I'll collect them.

"It is sad to have to close after all these years. Women have been in tears when I told them and I was almost crying myself.

"I think there will be some people who will be delighted to see me going,, though.''

In April Mr Martin, 37, warned city magistrates he would have to close when they granted Durham City Council a liability order for a £1,580 unpaid business rates bill.

"It's just too much when you add on the cost of your stock, electricity and water,'' he said.

Mr Martin has been a thorn in the side of officialdom - particularly Durham City Council - since the yellow lines were painted by Durham County Council when the city's Prince Bishops Shopping Centre was built.

He turned the window of his shop - opposite Labour MP Gerry Steinberg's office - into a well-read giant noticeboard highlighting allegations about local bureaucracy.

The web site he set up to bring his campaign to a wider audience was twice sabotaged - allegedly by local schoolboys - and he has featured in TV programmes and national newspapers and magazines.

In the recent county council elections he finished 444 votes behind Labour in the Gilesgate division.

"Whatever happens I'll still be campaigning,'' Mr Martin said. Customers will be able to contact him on (07931) 852038.