02Policy priority 2: Develop a thriving city centre economy in Middlesbrough

  • Ensure more Grade A office space is available in the centre of Middlesbrough. Tees Valley’s urban core should replace its excess retail space with high-quality office.
  • Avoid forcing new office and retail development away from town centres. Levelling up will be more difficult to achieve if jobs are dispersed across out-of-town locations.
  • Pursue infill development within Middlesbrough. While the development of high-quality suburban housing is welcome, care must be taken to avoid the depopulation of the centre. The mayor should continue to support infill development within Middlesbrough on cleared land.

In addition to the clear industrial strengths of the Tees Valley, the mayor should continue to address a major weakness in the local economy – its lack of a strong urban centre that, if left unaddressed, may hamper the economy as it recovers from the pandemic, in the same way it did in the decades before. This will require improvements to both commercial property and the housing stock in central Middlesbrough.

Central Middlesbrough needs more high-quality office space, and currently has too much retail space. Almost half of all commercial floorspace in central Middlesbrough was retail in 2018, compared to 26 per cent in the average city centre, and city centre high street vacancies in Middlesbrough were at 15 per cent against a city centre average of 12 per cent. Meanwhile, just 29 per cent of commercial space in central Middlesbrough was office compared to 50 per cent in the average city, and Middlesbrough’s city centre office space was of poorer quality than many city centres.7

The mayor should continue to support city centre office investment such as the Centre Square development in the centre of Middlesbrough, which is already 80 per cent let.8 This will require conversions and possibly even demolitions of surplus retail space. Providing an environment that is attractive to highly productive office workers and firms within the centre will deepen the appeal of the overall local economy, creating more jobs and growing the wider Tees Valley economy over the longer term.

The mayor should avoid forcing new development to occur away from urban centres. Subsidies and schemes to promote out-of-town development may seem to offer short-term jobs growth and narrow business rates benefits for local authorities. But in the long term, they undermine the overall strength of the economy by taking activity away from where it can be accessed widely. Deepening the density of jobs and customers in central Middlesbrough should be an economic priority for the mayor.

The mayor should continue to pursue infill development of brownfield land within inner Middlesbrough. Large, new high-quality homes are appropriate in the city region due to low land costs and as a means to improve choice for existing and new residents. But providing more of these dwellings should not lead to neglect of land closer to the urban core. Ensuring that brownfield land close to the centre of Middlesbrough that has been cleared is eventually developed should be a priority for the mayor, as they continue to strengthen Tees Valley’s wider economy.