Monday, February 25, 2008


2nd May 2002

FAO (deleted)
Office of Jim Cousins M.P.,
21 Portland Terrace,
Newcastle upon Tyne,

Dear (deleted),

re: Proposals for the development of the former Paint Factory site,
Portland Road, Ouseburn Valley.

Thank you for your telephone calls regarding my e-mail to Jim Cousins MP concerning an exchange of correspondence between myself and Newcastle City Council. I enclose copies of previous correspondence I sent to the City Council on this subject (1), and a copy of a letter sent to the preferred developer’s architects (2). The only letter I have received from either Newcastle City Council, or the architects, is one sent by Mr (deleted), Group Manager – Development Planning dated 17th April last. This contains only the most general information about new proposals, of which you seem already well aware.

I reiterate that my concern is that any development of this site, the Paint Factory, will be predicated on taking up land from the City Stadium public open space. Public Open Space is at a premium in all inner cities, and this area of our city is no exception. I am not against all or any development of the former Paint Factory; indeed, with the right scheme the whole Ouseburn Valley would benefit. But, in my view, such a scheme should not be dependent on taking up Public Open Space for private benefit.

Thank you for your interest.

Yours sincerely,

1. This letter is in addition to others previously posted to the blog. I shall leave the interested to read them as a whole. There is very little solid information in any of them but they perhaps highlight how easy it would be to lose public open space by default. To this day I do not know why the prospective developers, so keen previously, pulled out.

2. I never received a reply from the architects to my typed letter. All attempts by myself to track down this letter (substantively the same one as went to Newcastle City Council's Planning chief and Jim Cousins MP) have failed. I now conclude that it was lost when a series of data storage floppy discs failed one after another about this time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A February afternoon

A small group of trees which stand at the extreme north eastern corner of the open space have been thinned by Newcastle City Council.

Thinning involves (in theory) removing some trees in order that others will develop more quickly ("promotion by selection"). It is a very ancient principle of woodland management and some of the best woodlands in the UK, especially England, have benefited from this policy – provided it is carried out with skill and as part of a thought out plan. The suggestion that in cutting down trees you were loosing cover would have surprised medieval wood cutters. To them it was part of a 'long cycle' approach to managing woodlands that left us, hundreds of years later, superb stands of trees. Ironically, a modern reluctance to intervene has produced a loss of variety and vigour in some woods.

A noticeable effect of thinning is an increase of ground cover plants. These daffodils and bluebells were originally planted; other plants blow in or are produced when seeds pass through birds guts. Increased daylight penetrating the leaf canopy in summer will encourage ground cover plants to spread. Beneficiaries will include invertebrates and birds feeding on either insects or seed set by plants.

Emerging Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta and Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus. February 2008.

Red Dead Nettle Lamium purpureum flowers all year round. February 2008.

However, timing is crucial. My one anxiety about this procedure is timing; it is imperative to consider the effect the disturbance and removal of shrubs in particular can have on breeding birds.

Global warming and associated climate change have made some birds breed earlier. Many common species are exhibiting signs of breeding activity now and some have been doing so for several weeks past. It would be most unfortunate if, as part of a enlightened policy of tree management, an unintended consequence prejudicial to birds resulted.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On a lighter note ...

Wearying as it is to re-type letters and post them with comments I think it worthwhile if only for the sake of the continuing pleasure of living and using a piece of 'common ground'.

This view is of the south west corner of the open space, taken during recent fine weather. The trees here have grown well and give a sense of woodland beyond their numbers and setting. Last week there were Redwings Turdus iliacus in the trees to the left hand of this view accompanied by several species of smaller birds including Blue Tits Parus caeruleus and Greenfinches Carduelis chloris. In the recent past I heard and saw a Greater Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major (daft name I think for a beautiful creature) in these trees.

People can get rather precious about coming into contact with the natural world; yet when it is not there I think we notice.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An exchange of views ...

As promised I am publishing here the correspondence I had with Newcastle City Council over plans to 'take in' a large slice of the City Stadium next to the former paint factory (demolished) in Battlefield. The plan as promoted (jointly I now understand between owners and the Council) envisaged building a car park for thirteen hundred vehicles over 'part' of the City Stadium site – effectively 'taking in' the whole site eventually for development. The gain accruing thereby to the City Council and local people was not clear; that to the developers only too apparent.

This threat has not in my view 'gone away' (though it may not be as immanent). Plans such as these have a habit of returning and it is noteworthy that no new proposal has come along since this scheme was placed before the public. A change in the political control of the City Council (Liberal Democrats ousted Labour meantime), is no guarantee of a secure future for the open space I chose to call (appropriately in the circumstances) 'Battlefield'.

Firstly, a letter written by Jim Cousins, MP. This is a copy of a letter to then (and as now) Labour Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central, Jim Cousins to the Newcastle City Council official in charge of the development of the former paint factory site, including the construction of a large car park over the City Stadium open space (sic). This letter was copied to me by Mr Cousins as a matter of courtesy. I have deleted the name and telephone number of the Newcastle City Council official for previously stated reasons; I am not concerned with individuals simply principle. Mr Cousins is in the public eye and that is a different matter.

24th May 2002

Head of Planning and Transportation
Enterprise, Environment & Culture Directorate
Civic Centre
Newcastle upon Tyne

Dear ...

Former Paint Factory site, Portland Road, Sandyford (sic)

A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the future use of the former Paint Factory site at Portland Road. I would be grateful if you could let me know what the current situation is regarding this site and its proposed development. It would be helpful if you could provide me with as much detail as possible about the planned use of this site and the nature of any proposed development.

This is clearly an extremely important site in the ongoing development of the Ouseburn Valley. I should stress that my constituents are extremely supportive of such development, as long as that development is both appropriate and in keeping with the needs of the community.

Yours sincerely

Jim Cousins

A developers board over the former Reg Vardy car showrooms. September 2007. This site has been cleared and will be developed for offices. It is adjacent to the former paint factory. Newcastle has several older office blocks unlet and some new provision as yet unlet. Office blocks are frequently built purely for investment and taxation gain.

View of the former paint factory. September 2007.

Further more ...

6 June 2002

Jim Cousins MP
21 Portland Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne

Dear Mr Cousins


I refer to your letter of 24 May regarding the above site.

The current position is that a draft brief for the site was approved by the Council's Development Control Committee on 5 April 2002 for public consultation and a copy is attached for your information. Consultation with Local Councillors, property owners and occupiers in the area and other interested parties is now in progress and a number of responses have been received. The intention is to revise the brief in the light of comments received and report the final version to Development Control Committee on 28 June for approval.

Once the brief is approved the Council has informally agreed with co-owners Akso-Nobel that the site will be jointly marketed and, via a selection process, a preferred developer will be selected to undertake the redevelopment of the site. I agree that it is a key gateway site to the Lower Ouseburn Valley and can confirm that the marketing particulars and eventual scheme selection criteria will reflex this view.

If you have any comments to make on the brief I would be pleased to receive them before 14 June if possible.

Yours sincerely

(name deleted)

Head of Planning and Transportation

Take a letter ...

Finally (for the moment) a letter to me about the last state of play in the game of development musical chairs. Incidentally, a letter from me to the developers architects was NEVER acknowledged. (NB Italics used in this copy are my emphasis.)

(NCC official's details deleted.)

6 September 2002

(Contact information deleted.)

Dear –


Thank you for your letter commenting on the Draft Brief for land at Portland Road.

The final version of the Brief was reported to the 9th August 2002 Development Control Committee where it was approved.(2) Your comments, along with all the comments received as a result of the consultation process, were reported to the Committee prior to a decision being made. Technical amendments requested by the Environment Agency and Cycling Touring Club have been included in the Brief.

The main revision to the final approval brief relates to the proposal in the draft version identifying the possibility of the development encroaching onto the City Stadium open space to generate investment.(3) However it was noted from the consultation responses that there were clear objections to this idea. Instead it has been agreed that a Management Plan be prepared and implemented for the City Stadium including identifying alternative sources of funding to bring this area of open space up to a level that will meet the aspirations of the community.(4) Accordingly the idea of allowing some limited development of the open space has been removed from the Brief.

I hope the above is of assistance. Should you require any further information please contact me on (deleted).

Yours sincerely

(Name and signature)
Planning Officer

1. As previously pointed out the Council refer throughout to the site as 'Portland Road'. This should be seen as being the closest major road rather than an exact location.

2. That is, despite objections to the fundamental ideas behind the Plan aka 'Draft' (that public open space could be built over by private developers for private gain) it was approved largely unaltered. This should be seen in the light of the constant refrain that 'consultation' is always being sought; they listen then ignore you.

3. Open space is only public when it cannot turn a penny. As soon as the chance comes along it can be cashed in for short term profit. (Please do not bore me with the old 'we need the jobs' arguments. I have seen a lot of this version of 'job creation' in my time and it simply never happens or quickly drops away.)

4. This is pious tripe. I have been involved with or on the edge of several 'consultations' and they were a sham. It may be hoped that one day the term will revert to its original and honoured meaning. Meanwhile be on your guard.
A view of the former paint factory site (to left of photograph). September 2007.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why we fight

All over this land there are groups of local people giving up time and energy to defend something, a place, a building or community resource from being swept away. The motives for removal usually arrive draped in language of crushing mediocrity:

"We (?) must not stop [stand in the way of] progress ..."

"There will be job opportunities ..."

These campaigners frequently are said to be 'nimbys'; as representing a 'vested interest' – something no one could accuse developers of having.

Well, here is my riposte: I took these today and are they not glorious? Proud to be stopping progress, nimby to the core!

(Normal service will be resumed soon when I have some more correspondence to put up concerning the suspended 2002 plans for 'developing' the paint factory for offices and gifting the nearby open space to the developer for car parking.)

Sun in winter

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Stasi HQ ...

The deeply unlovely Shieldfield Health Centre on Portland Road.

(With apologies to the fine people who deliver health care to the community at Shieldfield ... But they make you work in a simply horrible building!)

A letter from the Council 17 April 2002

My impulse (slow off the mark I admit) to create this blog was a series of letters exchanged in the first part of 2002. I had some telephone conversations with the Council officer concerned (civilised) and the local MP's agent (patronising). Then the political situation changed and the in-coming Liberal Democrat Council appears not to have pursued the 'scheme'.

I have re-typed the first letter I received from the then Council, partly because of the problems of scanning and clarity and also to delete the name of the Council officer; this blog is about issues not personalities and I do not wish to be seen to being in pursuit of anyone. There are greater matters at stake.

Deep breath ... I am NOT against development and indeed I am much more of a 'developer' than I may appear. In my view the whole area between the Ouseburn road and rail bridges and Shieldfield would benefit from large scale re-development where possible, especially the 70s vintage flats and the adjacent Shieldfield Health Centre, which face onto the open space. It is simply the type of re-development and its uses. The potential is exciting, but the plans that have been proposed are (or were) full of an aching familiarity and short term thinking. The character of the area was ignored, possibly because developers think the same way where ever they happen to be. Not so much planning as paperhanging. Newcastle, once described as a world class example of Georgian and Victorian architecture, has suffered enormously at the hands of developers in recent decades. Even now, buildings are going up which are not even trivial.

Some points from the letter are made in notes which I have added immediately beneath the text.

Dear Sir/Madam (sic)

17 April 2002

Dear Sir/Madam (sic)


The Draft Strategy for the Regeneration of the Ouseburn Valley identified the former Paint Factory site on Portland Road as a development opportunity where there was strong developer interest for a Business Park. Unfortunately that proposal was not forthcoming. (1) However, although the site has not been marketed (2), there has been interest in the site from a number of developers and guidance in the form of a Development Brief is viewed as essential.

The Brief once it is approved by the City Council will set out the relevant planning policies contained in the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) and other considerations to be taken into account in developing the site. At this stage it is in draft form and is going through a public consultation process. (3)

The Draft Brief suggests that the site should be developed for business/light industrial (4) but as part of a mixed use scheme including a broad mix of housing type, density and size but clear that student accommodation would not be an appropriate use. (5)

The Draft Brief proposes that there may be scope to utilise parts of the adjacent City Stadium open space as part of a larger scheme subject to agreed improvements to the existing leisure and recreational facilities, retaining the cycle route and enhancing the recreational/habitat quality of the open space. (6) It suggests no more than 10% of the City Stadium will be made available to be incorporated into a scheme.


Yours faithfully

My notes (3rd February 2008)

(1) 'Strong' has changed its meaning.

(2) i.e. Sold off to private developers.

(3) At this time I had been involved in another 'public consultation process' in another part of the city. It was a remarkably sinister experience of Nixonian duplicity and bad faith.

(4) The use of 'suggests' and 'should' in the same sentence is noteworthy.

(5) There was an underline emphasis in the original letter. It was noticeable at this time how quick the spectre of 'students' was rolled out to cover the tracks of naked greed developers and 'buy to let' rent racketeers. One would never have guessed that by 2002 Newcastle benefited by some 350 million pounds per annum (at 2002 prices) from the presence in the city of 40,000 students. By some accounts they were the saviours of the 'corner shop' in some areas.

6. Put simply this is 'planning gain' whereby, in return for the gift of 'public open space' any 'preferred' developer would have to provide some 'recreational facilities'. Maintenance, the year on year costs to keep such facilities up to scratch, would of course, be a charge on the Council Tax payers. In my reply (See below) I pointed out that if 10% were to be granted (i.e. given away) then thereafter a precedent would have been created and further slices (in fact the whole open space) could be up for grabs. This is precisely what the developer envisaged in a three tier scheme in which the first was a 'modest' acquisition of land for car parking (1300 cars!) and the third a complete take over of the site for a flash sporting club (no doubt fee paying). Greed was their down fall and nothing more was heard of this scheme – but this does not mean the idea is dead.