Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In need of landscaping

I mean to discuss some of the points raised in my recent exchange of e-mails with Councillor Sophie White. One phrase which Cllr. White used keeps popping into my mind. "Landscaping". More on that another time, but meanwhile here are some photographs (still hot from the camera) of the City Stadium which do not suggest to me they are in urgent need of "landscaping". I must be missing something, obviously. (Note detached student leg sticking into the left side of the frame, third image down. The afternoon sun brought out the crowds to "threatening" Battlefield" yet again.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

An exchange of views ...

I have been in correspondence with Councillor Sophie White over the planning permission granted to Metnor Group plc to redevelop the old paint factory site. Councillor White graciously replied to my points and I have some hopes for the future. But we are not out of the woods yet. Here in order is the correspondence (via e-mail) thus far.

17th April 2009

Dear Cllr. White,

re: Planning permission granted to Metnor Group plc and the University of Northumbria to erect student flats on the former paint factory site at Portland Road Shieldfield.

I was an objector to the above scheme. I am informed by letter (dated 09.04.09) that the Newcastle City Council's local planning committee has been minded to grant the proposers permission to proceed which they intend to do in the near term.

My objection was not aimed at students or at developing the former paint factory site, though this scheme follows on from a very similar proposal to build 500 plus apartments, offices and so forth, which, it was reported, founded on the problem of ridding the site of contamination by heavy metals, the residues of which penetrate the ground, and which are injurious to health. In somewhat less than twelve months this problem seems to have been overcome.

My over riding concern is for the adjacent City Stadium and the plans to improve this which are seemingly inextricably linked by the several developers who have made earlier development proposals for the former paint factory site, this present case being no exception. I was unable to discover from the proposers' representatives at the public exhibition of the plans for the development when their client purchased the the City Stadium site, or, how it falls to them to propose the re-development of the City Stadium.

Perhaps you might enlighten me on this point.

I am anxious that the City Stadium is maintained for the whole community, which, as you know, is diverse. The strength of open space in urban areas is as a precious resource for informal recreation. It was unhelpful of Metnor Group plc's representative at the public exhibition to describe the present site as "threatening". He was unable to assist me in explaining how the landscaping and sports field enhancements his clients were proposing for the City Stadium would tackle this problem of unspecified threat.

The City Stadium thirty years ago was a rather despondent place; subsequently the plantings and pathway improvements and some public investment in infrastructure have proved increasingly far sighted and the open space is assuming a park-like character. Any plans to convert open space to selective and privileged uses as a result of the space being developed for specific activities would be retrograde; it might also require explanation beyond the very little I have been able to discover in the public domain.

I have been cataloguing and recording the City Stadium site for some time and my blog on this "threatening" patch of precious public open space can be found at:

I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this matter with you and have your views on the future of the City Stadium in the light of recent decisions by the Newcastle City Council's planning committee.

Best Wishes,

22 Apr 2009

Dear Mr ...,
Thank you for your email concerning the City Stadium and the Portland Green development. Firstly, could I clarify that I am not actually a Councillor in Ouseburn Ward, I am the Labour Spokesperson for Ouseburn. I also objected to the proposal and spoke on behalf of residents at the Development Control Committee on 20th March. I wholehearted agree that the City Stadium is a very valuable asset to the local community and would be willing to discuss the future of the site with you should you wish.
I hope that I can help to provide some further information in regards to the queries you raised. Firstly, you mention contamination issues, as part of the application an extensive land contamination report was supplied by the developer, this suggested that remediation works would ensure that the ground was suitable for development. Details of this can be found via the following link (you may have to copy and paste the address).
In terms of when the site was sold, the Council's Executive approved the conditional disposal of the City Council's freehold interest in the Berger site to Metnor in 2006.
As part of the application, Metnor also had to submit landscaping plans, which can be found (if you scroll down the numerous documents) at the link below. All other documents associated with this application can also be found here.
The developer must pay a substantial contribution towards open space in the area. Details can be found in paragraphs 110-112 of the Development Control Committee report.
What exactly this entails is up to the local community and the Council to decide, this will be discussed at subsequent Ouseburn Ward Committees.
I have also attached the Officer Report which states the conditions required for the development to proceed.
I hope that this information is of use to you.
Once again, I would be willing to discuss the future of the site with you should you wish.
Kind regards,
Sophie White
Labour Spokesperson Ouseburn Ward 

22nd April 2009

Dear Cllr White,

I am grateful to you for you e-mail regarding the City Stadium and the impact upon it arising from the development of the former paint factory site at Portland Road. I wrote to you for the following reasons.

i) [deleted by author]

ii) I e-mailed my concerns some time ago to the e-mail addresses for Ouseburn Ward Liberal Democrat Councillors and still await a response from them; since events have moved on I suspect these would now, if they arrive, be purely of a courtesy to myself.

I am afraid I find much in the information which you so kindly pass on to me about which to be concerned. My main point is to ask how the 're-development' of the City Stadium (described to me in person by a PR person engaged by Metnor Group plc as a "threatening" place) falls to be a matter for Metnor Group plc to deal with since they do not ,as far as I understand, own the site.

My position is quite simple. I am not concerned how Metnor Group plc and its clients the University of Northumbria choose to house students. That is a matter for them. The former paint factory site is a large one but 2000 units would seem to take the meaning of capacity to a new level. It also may have a negative impact on Ouseburn Valley re-development. The consequent collapse in the 'buy to rent' sector will also impact on several city wards.

My concern is that the City Stadium is by default or stealth being turned into an asset of Metnor Group plc and the University of Northumbria and that further 'development' of the site would be inevitable as consequence; during the previous Labour administration 'development' of the open space was apparently a corollary of planning consent for the former paint factory site. A large car park was one proposal. I note your sentence "Metnor also had to submit landscaping plans". Why does the City Stadium need landscaping? I would like to have this requirement explained. However, unless a clear public statement concerning the ownership of the City Stadium site can be had I will assume that the Newcastle City Council has decided to give this resource of open space to the private sector in exchange for 'conditions' which may not in fact preserve nor protect the long term public interest.

I note that this piece of open space has been omitted from the current application to the National Heritage Lottery Fund for the Ouseburn Parks Project, an omission I find both illuminating and ominous.

These may indeed not be questions I can legitimately put to you, but you may be better placed than I am to raise these points; in any case I am grateful to you for your concern. At least you replied.

Best Wishes

Dear ...,
Thank you for your email. In regards to Metnor, the boundary of their site is up to the City Stadium but does not include it. The landscaping plans are only for the area owned by Metnor, not for the actual stadium area itself. As I mentioned in my previous email, a substantial amount of money must be paid by Metnor to the Council, which must be used towards open space. The City Stadium along with other areas such as Wretham Place have been suggested as possible areas for this money to be used. As I stated, the Council must decide exactly where this money will be spent in conjunction with the local community. The Ouseburn Ward Committee will undoubtedly discuss this.
I appreciate your concerns about further development occuring on the City Stadium site, but think that it would be unlikely to happen as the site is protected by the Local Plan, stating that it should remain open space.
I hope this information is useful.  
Kind regards,
Sophie White
Labour Spokesperson Ouseburn Ward

27th April 2009

Dear Cllr White,

For the first time ever I have had some kind of assurance about the City Stadium site. I wish to thank you for taking the time and trouble over this matter.

My concern is that this community resource – which is still developing, in the sense that those plantings and hard features placed there many years ago are beginning to gain a 'sense of place'. Previous plans for the paint factory did however envisage that 'part' of the City Stadium site be relinquished for car parking. Other suggestions clearly suggested to me that the space would be taken under the control of vested interests and thereby lost to the wider public. 

Recent sunshine and warmth drew out many people to enjoy the space from many sectors of the community. I hope this remains an opportunity available to future generations.


Best Wishes,

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Site photo album up dated

The site's Flickr® space has been updated with new images (and my comments!). Please take a moment to view. The link to the album is lower down on the right hand of the page.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Into the blue

What a difference a day (or two) makes! No time to write any more. My request to meet a local politician to discuss the future of "threatening" Battlefield has not as yet received a reply. All my previous e-mails to local elected politicians were ignored by their recipients.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fret. Fretting

At times when the rest of the UK is "sweltering" a cruel climatic feature spites the life of the north east Sun worshipper. The heat which elsewhere drives up the sales of ice creams and easy chairs, with us combines with a cold sea current and accompanying cold air to give a cold damp overcast which the beaming sun cannot penetrate. It is possible by driving west, away from the coast, to slide out from underneath this eiderdown of dampness; but otherwise one just endures it and hopes for a change of wind direction.

Another cold wind is blowing over Battlefield and I fear for the trees and the birds and other creatures. Years ago I noticed a sudden and welcome increase in Song Thrushes on Battlefield, itself well suited to their needs. These birds had something of a decline in numbers throughout the UK in recent years and there were fears for their future as one of our emblematic song birds, beloved of gardeners and allotment holders for their snail and slug devouring diet. I counted four together beside the foot and cycle path. A week later the Council chopped down all the nearby shrubs and I have not seen nor heard a Song Thrush there since. Newcastle City Council has however, together with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, issued a leaflet on the Song Thrush which urges those interested to write in and identitfy places where this lovely song bird can be found. I thought about sending in my comments but what would be the point? One senses people 'going through the motions'.

I have written to a local City Councillor about the current threat to "forbidding" Battlefield and City Stadium from proposals linked to the building of 2000 student 'flats' on the former paint factory site. If I get a response I will write further. Perhaps, I will learn how Metnor Group plc, the developers of the paint factory site come to propose alterations for a piece of open space they do not, as far as I know, own.

Meanwhile here are some recent images of the sky over Battlefield and blossom in the gloom.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Over the Hill and far away

I have today received a letter from Louise Hill, Senior Administrative Officer in the office of the (deep breath) 'Director of Strategic Housing, Planning and Transportation Environment and Regeneration Directorate' (presumably run by, er, God) concerning my objection to the development of 2000 students flats on the former paint factory site*.

Ms Hill writes:

"I refer to the above proposal. The City Council either notified you about the application when it was received or you submitted your comments about the proposal to the City Council." (Sub text, either way, what does it matter?)

"I now have to inform you that the local planning authority considered the proposal and the following decision has been made:

To grant permission subject to conditions." (Unspecified)

" In coming to a decision, the local planning authority took account of the views you expressed." These were also 'expressed' by all three local Councillors and the local representatives of another political party. Only one letter of support for the scheme was received.

"A copy of the Decision Notice is available to download from:" LINK

Except it is not. Instead I was today greeted by this:

'WARNING: The record you have tried to retrieve could not be found. It may have been deleted by another user or process. Please verify that the record exists by using the search tools.'

So I am still in the dark as to why a scheme which was opposed by all the elected and virtually all the interested local parties was shuffled through. But, with this city's record in urban planning, who could really be surprised?

* Actually addressed not to me but to the 'Owner/Occupier'.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ham Actor

The Journal article about the student ghetto planned for the former paint factory site (see also below) quotes Mr Brian Ham, director of the Metnor Property Group, who said: “We are aware student developments are a sensitive issue. But both the universities are in competition for students and if Newcastle isn’t able to offer good quality student facilities they will go elsewhere".

Mr Ham is not an educator, I presume. I rather believe Mr Ham is the director of a company wishing to diversify away from a slackening demand for factory and wholesale warehouse construction into the rapidly expanding and lucrative student warehousing market. His views about the two city Universities as quoted are interesting and contradictory.

According to what I read in The Journal I learn from Mr Ham that the two universities are in competition for students who are seeking better than average accommodation. Providing better accommodation will resolve this competitive difference.

How comes? Surely, students are firstly attracted to courses in disciplines which they wish to study? En suite bathrooms might just swing it, but surely this must be something rather less tangental to other factors? An opportunity to study law at a leading British university might one feels weigh more heavily than considerations of which ones can provide fitted carpets and Wi-Fi equipped 'rooming'.

Unless of course this is nothing whatsoever to do with academic excellence but a chance to suck yet more cash out of the student loan into the coffers of one of these 'competing' universities.

Despite Mr Ham's company profitting by this scheme, he remains "sensitive" to the feelings of the objectors – one hundred per cent of both Liberal Democrats and local Labour party officials and a sizeable number of private objectors. Mr Ham's sensitivity makes all the difference. It would make more of a difference if Mr Ham were to move into the area he is so committed to turn into an above average student ghetto and experience for himself the price others will pay for the revenue stream his company is creating for itself and the University of Northumbria.

Meanwhile back at Low IQ Central ...

Councillor Gareth Kane said: “We would have preferred family accommodation there to re-balance the community ... (Which is why the Council never produced any such scheme and the site was twice ear marked for offices – of which several large, modern and very empty examples dot the city already) .. but legally we knew we were in a difficult position to argue and the committee couldn’t turn down the proposal.”

Why ever not? Proposals are turned down all the time. What hold has Metnor and client the University of Northumbria have over the Council? And why not argue any way? You do have an argument, don't you?


Undiscussed by The Journal but of potentially greater importance to the future of the open space, were the examples of 'doing up' the "threatening" City Stadium site presented by Metnor – who do not own this ground. These include proposals which suggest this piece of open space will effectively come under the control of whomever controls the new student accommodation development – Metnor or its client, the University of Northumbria. This does "threaten" to turn this precious piece of inner city landscape into a private pitch for students to play on and the rest of us to skirt around. Remarks made by Metnor's PR representatives at the public presentation I attended made this intention – to control the open space – clear. To them obvously, it was done deal.

Older posts which are relevent to this subject include (oldest first):

The Letter

An Exchange of Views


But will it ever happen?

It is all becoming clearer now

Lose some win some


As predicted the student 'ghetto' proposed for the former paint factory site overlooking Battlefield is to go ahead. I received no acknowledgement of my objection having been considered; however it seems I was not alone. Read more here.

Locally elected Councillors were 'over ruled'.


The Newcastle "Journal" is reporting (11.04.09) that the long saga over permission to build a thirty something storey tower in the Lower Ouseburn is over. The developers have sold their slab of land and the scheme which has hung over the area like a curse is finished. But given this city's record – what next?

Incidentally, The Newcastle "Jounal" and journalist Tony Henderson have a fine record of standing up for what is best in the built environment and campaigning against the excesses of the planners at the Civic Centre. It is they who have given voice to the many who regarded the tower scheme as a nail in the coffin of the regeneration acheived by local enthusiasts and visionaries.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April showers

A busy time and therefore fewer posts. No news on the development proposal for the former paint factory site promoted by Metnor Group plc and partners the University of Northumbria. This is not unusual and, indeed, I would be surprised if my concerns forwarded to the planning committee at Newcastle City Council are acknowledged, leave alone answered.

Buds are bursting (though slower than I expected) and birds are singing. Soon the real business of spring will be underway.

I took these photographs in high summer two years ago when the idea for this blog came to me. They are of the Ouseburn as it runs beside what used to be called Sandyford and disappears into a large culvert beneath the 'in-fill' called the City Stadium by most but by me "Battlefield".

I hope to put up some material on the history of the 'Battlefield' site as time goes by. Meanwhile I have some chores to do – not all unpleasant.

The 'entrance' to the culvert. The down stream end is by the riding stables at the bottom of Stepney Bank in the Lower Ouseburn Valley. (Photographs September 2007.)