Sunday, October 12, 2008

How Green is my Valley?

Climate change. Now the cash is in letting to students ...

When it came I must confess I was surprised for a few seconds.

On a day (a week, even) of high politics and financial bail-outs of staggering magnitude, would seem an odd moment to indulge in speculative ventures. Entitled "A New Look for Portland Green" I knew what it was about at a glance. So that is what they have decided to call the old paint factory site.

Someone will compile a list of all the fugded up heritage names and hand me down quaint titles that planners and estate agents reach for when they want to paint lipstick on a corpse. 'Barracks on the Green'? No... 'Billet by the Tyne'? No ...? One can picture the session as one black suited embalmer tries to out do the others in raking up a suitably misleading place name for a student ghetto. For that finally (?) is what is proposed. Green? Think naive rather than leather on willow.

Gone are the environmental office blocks. Newcastle has already a swathe of unlet offices, many newly built, others which have languished for years, so this decision to pull the 'eco-building' was inevitable (See photograph above.). A quarter of a mile away offices stand unlet and likely to remain so until someone realises the only way forward is to demolish them. Gone are the plans for five hundred plus "apartments", downed by the credit crunch and falling house prices (and potential profits to the developer). Instead what is planned is a "much needed" profit taking oppotunity to erect a barracks for students alongside the existing one on Portland Road and to accompany the many others which have been built on every available strip of land (including air space over the Metro Lines) between the central motorway and the suburbs.

The proposers of this wretched piece of money grubbing are Metnor Group plc "working closely with the University of Northumberland".

Worse, they are also reviving ideas first put forward several years ago (and the impetus for this blog) to "improve the facilities (sic) of the City Stadium. Open space is very valuable to the area and we are interested in hearing your suggestions on how it could be improved". Set alongside this self-serving cynical sentiment is a photograph of the City Stadium arena of such thudding ordinariness  it would drive a Methodist to drink.

Who are these people? Am I free to I suggest ways in which where they live can be improved?

Metnor and or the University of Northumbria are "providing Newcastle City Council with funding" to facilitate their bid to ghettoise Shieldfield and Battlefield. No doubt this will be described as 'planning gain'. There are names for this kind of behaviour, none pleasant. It will also make it rather more difficult for the City Council to oppose the development. As an offer it is at one and the same time demeaning and contemptible. 

The area between the central motorway and the edge of the Lower Ouseburn Valley has many exciting possibilities. It is an area in which the right plan could be extremely beneficial both to existing enterprise and future ventures. Much in this area needs re-development. The effort to re-generate this district requires sensitivity and imagination, neither of which are apparent in this scheme. It is a plan to insert into a small area a number of  large buildings with high occupancy figures creating a dense concentration of people in a finite area – or is it? I have long suspected that the intention is to build over the City Stadium site where possible. The previous scheme (see my early posts) envisaged a large car park and similarly promised to "improve" the remaining smigin of open space.

This scheme does not represent an advance on the noted successes of the Lower Ouseburn and by comparison, obviously does not seek to do so. It is a manoeuvre by a developer hand in glove with a University (University!) intent on generating yet more income from students. If any students have read this far: I am a former student and have relatives who are or were recently students and I am sick of the rackeeting to which the young are being subjected. This scheme is nothing about providing students with accomodation but everything about making even more money from them; and if a district loses amenity and a quiet lung of this busy city is fouled up as a result, too bad. Mine's a gin and tonic and here's to success! 

I intend to oppose this scheme and I hope you will join me.

Metnor have kindly provide an email at which one can record one's response to their wretched ideas for the former paint factory and adjoining open space:

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