Thursday, November 16, 2017

'Speaking Truth to Power'

A cross post with permission from Save Newcastle Wildlife

Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign to Put Nature on the Map at Newcastle Civic Centre on 1st November. 

As a result of our 3,000-strong petition, Newcastle City Council has committed to deliver its green infrastructure strategy, which it promised six years ago.

Following the debate, we have been approached by an independent councillor with an interest in increasing tree cover across the city.

The next opportunity for us to make a tangible difference is in our response to the consultation on the draft Development and Allocations Plan, which sets out where development will take place in Newcastle.

You can access the documents here.

We are working on a detailed submission and we need your help to call for greater clarity on policies to protect and enhance green infrastructure, trees and landscaping, biodiversity and habitats and open space.

The more pressure we put on the council to amend the policies, the more chance we have of securing greater protection for wildlife and green spaces. Responding to the consultation is vitally important.

The deadline for comments is 5pm, Monday 20th November.

Please email with the subject line 'Draft Development and Allocations Plan - Comments on Biodiversity, Green Infrastructure and Open Space'.
Some points to include in your email are:

Policy DM26 - Protecting and Enhancing Green Infrastructure
The policy must be reworded to ensure greater protection for green infrastructure
A green infrastructure strategy must be finalised and integrated in the DAP

New development within 2km of green infrastructure networks and on greenfield sites must secure connectivity for wildlife, through blue- green corridors of trees, shrubs, hedges, wildflower areas, grassland and wetland

Policy DM27 -Trees and Landscaping
The policy must be reworded to ensure greater protection for trees, in particular aged or veteran trees, and ancient woodland

Further detail of tree, shrub and hedgerow provision in relation to development must be provided
Tree Strategy must be given greater weight in planning decisions
Further detail of tree replacement standards must be provided

Policy DM28 - Protecting and Enhancing Biodiversity and Habitats
The policy must be reworded to ensure biodiversity and habitats are better maintained, created and enhanced

Wildlife enhancement corridors must specify allocations of land that are protected to 'buffer and link', provide 'stepping stones'; and 'create or restore' biodiversity
Light spill from development on important species and habitats must be avoided
New development must incorporate wildlife-friendly housing design and construction and habitat enhancement across the wider landscape
Development of previously undeveloped land within 2km of the green infrastructure network and waterways must be subject to specific biodiversity standards

Policy DM29 – Protecting Open Space
The policy must be reworded to ensure greater protection for open space
The amenity green space standard of 1.2 hectares per 1000 population must be maintained, as a minimum optimum standard

More emphasis must be given to protection of parks and recreation grounds
Housing allocations at Hartburn Walk, Kenton Bar and Thornley Road, West Denton should not be permitted as there is already a shortfall in parks and recreation areas at these locations and development would impact wildlife corridors

Please use the above points to guide your comments only. Personalised individual submissions will have more weight.

Parks, Allotments and Nature Reserves in Newcastle

Newcastle City Council has published its Cabinet Report on 'Creating a Charitable Trust to Protect Newcastle's Parks and Allotments'.

The report will be considered at a public meeting on Monday 20th November at 4.30pm in Newcastle Civic Centre.

Anton Deque adds.

This is refreshing from S.N.W.

To be effective efforts to ward off 'worse to come' planning decisions must be aggressive, applying constant pressure. That was somewhat lacking in the early days of the groups existence. Fighting your enemy on grounds of his choosing – especially arguments about the interpretation of legislation easily sidestepped by developers with deep pockets and matches – and going after specific instances of doubletalk and dereliction of stated policies is better. Better still would be to ensure inclusiveness. As Richard Mabey suggested last century*, conservation can too readily become what seems like a specialised game played by specialists on a special pitch, and thereby excluding the 'general public', whomever they are. S.N.W. have got 3,000  signatories to a Petition. Well done! Make that 10,000 and the Council will really sit up.

*The Unofficial Countryside (1973)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Falling Leaves

A final look in 2017 at the piece of green space I have called Battlefield because one time it looked like a battle to protect this precious resource was immanent. In those early years for this blog, the likelihood was some kind of 'development', first of a 1300 car parking space (!), then multi-storey offices followed by apartments and now student halls. Character free developments that have bought no 'vibrant' community in their train. Students shuffle along like weary commuters and Deliveroo couriers come and go morning, noon and night ...

Yet, at least Battlefield the Beautiful remains and so far the dottier schemes have not come to anything. An under hand land grab by the Universities p.l.c. has not happened – yet. The public is still welcome to stroll and enjoy the views over the Tyne Gorge.

Elsewhere the situation of the city sways and swerves between the not so bad and the threat of more of the worst. The Listed (sic) Odeon is a space waiting to be turned into another 'much needed' shopping precinct when the only competitor to Eldon Square, the former Newgate Shopping Centre has also been put out of its misery (not before time).

A photographic essay on Battlefield, where another old friend, a lurching White stroke Grey Poplar, succumbed to high winds, here. (Off site link.)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Through the power of dance!

The first time I saw Marlborough Crescent and the nearby streets was from the top of a bus travelling west into Scotswood, then being taken away in the back of fleets of lorries following T. Dan Smith’s Great Leap Forward for Newcastle city in the early 70s. Cruddas Park was not yet synonymous with intractable urban problems. The lower end of the West Road around Bath Lane, Pink Lane and behind the historic Stoll Theatre was grim. Very grim. Great patches of beaten flat mud alongside the dereliction were home to heaps (in every sense) of battered second hand cars. Many even had matching coloured doors.

Somehow Marlborough Crescent and the streets to the north avoided complete demolition. One born and bred Geordie friend told me it was here, not the Grade II Listed Eldon Square where the retail centre of the same (misused) name should have been sited. He was probably right.

Instead it became the home of Dance City.

Originally housed in a lane off Waterloo Street, these dance studios got the money together to build a brand new centre with a marvellous performance space alongside one of T. Dan’s infamous urban motorway schemes, known to us as the Jackie Milburn Boulevard. I’ll say no more.

By the 90s the district was to be rebranded as the Theatre Village. I’m not sure what John Hall, one of the proposers, got out of it. If it ever meant much, the brand name hasn’t damaged the place that’s for sure. Waterloo Street had been revitalised by the superb North British development in 1980, still one of the best looking in the city. This scheme was followed by an imaginative re-purposing of a very fine 1930s brick building that had had a long and often shabby recent history bang opposite, Some of the other additions since then have not been either as successful nor have gelled as well; the large central space between Dance City and the newly built Holiday Inn Express seems a desolate place even in sunshine and what little that has been done to landscape this sweep of concrete simply underlines this.

Fortunately, this hasn’t undermined what has been gained. Many trees around the area and besides the motorway planted twenty years ago have begun to make an addition to the feel of place here that I find reminiscent of some of the best urban spaces I know or have seen around the country and overseas. There is a fine feeling about this slice of urban living between the ‘Boulevard’ and the Central Station. It is both large scale and small scale, busy and quiet, a complex of surprising vistas. One can see a distant hillside topped be woods in one direction and in another a narrow 19th century lane that looks as though horses and carts and business men in stovepipe hats have only just left.

Slideshow here (off site link)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Field day

Save Newcastle Wildlife (S.N.W.) have made a 'Corporate Complaint' against Newcastle City Council.

"We submitted a request for an enforcement case to be raised on 4th June 2017 to address this issue, but are yet to receive a response."

Read more (and sign up if you can) here.

The unstoppable concreting over the Green Belt is a national issue, not just a local problem.

My own view is simple. We need housing for low waged people (so-called social housing) and for those starting on the home ownership ladder. Fortunately the north east as a whole has plentiful post industrial and under used land where affordable homes could be built. Much of this land lies along the axis of the Tyne itself, east to west. This is also a major transport axis and opportunities for employment and easy to reach facilities. It is also not the area that developers wish to exploit. Instead these wish to monetise the city's Green Belt because of the additional (premium) weighting this carries for profit. Selling a house out on the Green Belt produces greater profits. So public housing policy is stifled and private greed wins every time. It's enough to make any one burn down a Grade II Listed building ...

The ever readable Rowan Moore, architect correspondent for The Observer has worthwhile views as always:–

"At the centre of debates about green belts is the question of trust. In theory it should be possible to build on a very small proportion of the nation’s green belts in such a way that affordable housing and sustainable communities are created, and more people have more and better access to nature than before. In practice few people trust that this will happen, as the available evidence is that we will get instead a smearing of developers’ standard products across the countryside, for sale at inflated prices."

Please do read the entire article here.

Monday, September 4, 2017

No Quarter

I need to say at once I cannot pity anyone who describes a place in an English city as a 'Quarter'. I despise them. But even criminals and narks have a role to play, as the famous historian E.P. Thompson wrote; without them we would know far less about historic figures. In the case of the over promoted estate agents who work tirelessly to file down what is left of the meaning and significance of living in a city rather than a corporate dream park of the wish fulfilment of the mediocre, we can use them and their brochures – a favourite weapon – to define exactly what is shallow and worthless about today's planners.

Fantasy or wilful deception? Do these people believe in what they are promoting? Are they just pretending?

Pilgrim Street is being 'regenerated'. In science fiction this is always an 'iffy' moment. What's coming? Well, in this case, I am certain, more corporate crap.

The Odeon cinema on Pilgrim Street, with its officially protected Grade Listed interior, was knocked down this year. Or fell down. But the protected Grade Listed interior had by then been smashed up by the owners to ensure the building shouldn't survive; the city council even chipped in for the cost of demolition further down Pilgrim Street, taking away one of the few distinguished modern buildings to grace the city. Money doesn't speak. It gets its own way.

 The former Bank of England Building on Pilgrim Street.
Years of studied neglect can't quite hide the quality.

The whole of this part of the city centre where the Odeon once stood has been given the usual label: the Pilgrim Quarter. The plans – that are actually less plans, more some kind of pants wetting fantasy – show a series of glass frontages linked to hollowed out existing fa├žades that cannot be pulled down or persuaded to fall down.

I seriously doubt any of the developers, their bank managers in Panama or Grand Cayman, P.R. people, or city planners have read their Kierkegaard –

"A passionate tumultuous age will overthrow everything, pull everything down; but a revolutionary which is at the same time reflective and passionless leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance," 

– words that seem just, well, so apt. Quarter is a smarmy label that proposes a sort of false history, more surface than reality. A old friend told me about how a north east development agency wished to remove the reality of the fisherman's life when it re-developed a quayside. A few good old boys sitting about mending nets, but no beat up vans and piles of plastic boxes full of stinky fish scales ...

Beyond the flashy images and gushing prose –

"The East Pilgrim Street ... represents one of the most strategically important City Centre regeneration areas in the north of England. Newcastle has consistently been identified as a location for major retail growth and provides the space for the retail, leisure and commercial core to expand." (1) [Emphasis added.]

– lies a rather brutal fact, Newcastle is not Manchester nor Birmingham; it commands no great hinterland of punters and all its ancient and traditional industries are but a memory. Where is the economic base to support these grandiose and verbose statements? Where does it live? Gosforth 'village'? The Wallsend Quarter?

The size of the available 'pot' has not escaped Intu, whose own Eldon Square up the street was built over the Grade II Listed (sic) Eldon Square, an earlier crime in the upward progress of Newcastle's assent into the Big Time.  When, earlier in the softening up process, the gushing wall of P.R. fell over Intu they were not best pleased, having, one assumes, worked personfully to keep the shop lights on in their own empire during a long and painful economic recession since 2008:

"Plans to turn Newcastle into the biggest retail centre in the North could instead send shops across the city into “a downward spiral of decline".

The owners of Newcastle’s Eldon Square shopping centre have told a planning inquiry into the future of Tyneside that hopes of eventually turning East Pilgrim Street into an £800m shopping centre to rival the likes of Harvey Nichols and Selfridges could fatally damage existing retail centres.

Bosses at Intu want to see Newcastle Council forced to promise an impact test on any new shopping centre."

No dice.

"Harvey Emms, the council’s most senior development official, said the East Pilgrim Street plan was there to cement the city’s place in the region". (3)

Region. Does Mr Emms get out much? Newcastle is smack in the centre of a large 'region' of sheep rearing and forestry, set well away from prosperous heartlands in the English Midlands. Perhaps he was thinking of Middlesbrough? Cramlington? Or, ... Sunderland? Newcastle is going to have to find lots and lots of people with deep pockets who choose to spend their great wealth in this city. They are going to be spoilt for choice.


One of the more amusing aspects to this Fantasy of the Quarters, is the memory I have speaking last century to a previous Mr Joy Boy and well paid over-promoted estate agent who planned something remarkably similar to that proposed for the city today (tomorrow, whenever?); a barely sentient population of credit card carrying punters apparently, borrowing money they could not repay for stuff they did not need at prices they could not afford. This nonsense went by the epithet "High Street U.K." during a break in the pep talk to the assembled suits and money grubbers present, I asked about the contribution of the arts to this city's well being and regeneration. Artists, he announced (he was of that type described by Queen Victoria as speaking to her as if addressing a public meeting), were degenerates and perverts. Next question.

The Banker's Crash that swept to destruction Mr J.B.'s plans to build a Fifth Avenue on the Tyne resulted in empty properties all over the city. Around the as yet to be damned with a label Pilgrim Street, former shops and offices standing dismally empty were let out as temporary spaces to em, ... artists ...

"Norham House, a former office block that used to be occupied by lawyers and accountants, had in more recent times been home to artists.

After 2010, Norham House became better known as The NewBridge Project with a street level gallery and bookshop and a warren of studios, workshops and exhibition spaces.

It run a programme of exhibitions, talks and other events and has been a popular destination during the annual Late Shows in Newcastle and Gateshead."

1. NCC website updated 27th July 2017. Retrieved 4th September 2017.

2. Newcastle Journal 11th June 2014. Retrieved 4th September 2017.

3. Ibid

4. Newcastle Journal 13th June 2017. Retrieved 4th September 2017.