Monday, August 30, 2010

The "Venice of the North"

A photographic essay on Newcastle's 'flagship' endeavour of the T. Dan Smith era, the Swan House complex and Central Motorway completed in the 60s.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Curse of the Paint Factory?

NO START HAS YET BEEN MADE on the accommodation blocks which were to be a keystone of the re-development of the former paint factory site next to Battlefield (a.k.a. City Stadium). Up Shieldfield Lane the huge new block, not part of the original scheme as presented to the public, is being completed, ready one expects for the new university term in the autumn. Just around the corner another large site on New Bridge Street is roaring ahead.

Why no progress? Surely, the time to begin work has slipped?

If any one has any information I'd welcome it. Treated in confidence.

My own guess is the University has had second thoughts connected to drastic changes in funding: The election of the Cameron Coalition government in May has lead to immediate changes for higher education funding with the official stance now firmly one of cuts to reduce the public borrowing deficit. Institutions are now required to live within tightly drawn boundaries specially recruitment of students.

A major plank in the 'business model' for the universities in the 00s was recruitment from overseas, in particular China. The rapid growth of the Chinese economy and the national demand for graduates there would be met by U.K. universities, who expended much energy on promoting their courses in China. Overseas students also bring in more money. It looked like a winner.

Gold rushes are always for the short term. This particular bubble may now be deflated if not burst. China must also be expecting returning graduates and post-graduates to be earning their keep and centres of higher education within China may now be able to offer as much if not more to their own students as a result of 'knowledge transfer'.

Meanwhile, the paint factory has grown into a fine wilderness of flora and fauna. So far in the last ten years or so three schemes to build over this site have come to nothing. Is this the fourth?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dropped by the shops

Not lost it's appeal: Grainger Market.

I decided some months ago I would expand my thoughts about planning in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne beyond 'Battlefield'. This post will form the first on a few subjects I have been mulling over for a while; years in fact...

One of the gems of Newcastle is the locally famous Grainger Market, a large Victorian covered market of stand alone premises built by the great partnership of John Dobson (architect of Tyneside Classical) and property tycoon, Richard Grainger.

Some few years back there was an ambitious plan to revitalise the Grainger Market. It would be 'thinned out' and refurbished. Many businesses were cleared away and a 'performance area' created. Many 'stalls' (actually lock up shops) were moth-balled and a display was placed inside one which set out the plan in an exhibition which included an artist's impression of what the newly revitalised premises would be like. I remember the straw hats.

In this future the shop staff were all going to wear themed clothing and straw boaters. Many of the suppliers of the market's staple products, especially meat and vegetables, but not just them, would receive notice. In their places would come boutiques – enterprises supplying more exciting products, such as 'designer' foods and gifts, craft shops and 'bespoke' goods.

The local news and media were recruited and, with evident laziness, re-cycled precisely the same phrases when discussing the scheme. Grainger Market was "old and dated" (and not in a good way) and the shopper's were all a bit thin on top and increasingly, on the ground. This last part was pure fiction. Not for the first time nor perhaps the last, a picture of shoddiness was produced in the hope of furthering a Council backed scheme.

Someone – I read it on a Green Party leaflet (I am not a member of the Greens) – once said that, from looking at what they do, one would have to conclude that Newcastle City Council hates Newcastle. There is a lot in that jibe.

Inside the Market shops were closed and cleared away, a performance area (pacĂ© London's Covent Garden) was created and stood largely empty for months; some (good I have to admit) refurbishment work was undertaken on shop frontages – but then the money ran out. The bands of tourists failed to materialise and the entertainments for yuppies sipping caffechino's didn't take off. Today the performance area is gradually being re-populated not by young people in business suits drinking diet this and that in their feeding schedule, but the same old dears like myself hobbling to have a tea and cake or beans on toast laden with cut price meat and veg.

The Grainger Market re-branding was in truth a hollow scheme*. There are no great numbers of people here  which make Covent Garden tick; in any case, when in London I avoid the place (though once I did stroll about late at night with friends when the ground was strewn with flowers and the night was full of the sound of a busy market, not yet tourist fly trap). Once again the ambitions of such schemes begins and ends in delusional ideas about what is 'good' for Newcastle which always turns out to be what do corporate investor's want? Well, not an old and dingy to some covered market which might not be a good draw for the money people. Down market was not going to work for them. So Grainger Market was history in more ways than one.

Come forward a few years and "old and worn out" Grainger Market thrives. Walking through – if you visit it is slap in the centre of town – you will see all sorts and conditions of people, including the occasional young person in business suit; people for whom the idea of shopping is not to run up debts but find bargains and talk to a human being like themselves, not a functionary of a corporate empire coached to repeat platitudes hatched in a skyscraper three and half thousand miles away.

Meanwhile, the trendy shops which were to be the future have gone. Just outside Grainger Market is a woeful sight; a street of shut up shops. The coffee isn't flowing, the designer shoes have walked and the 'lifestyle' is distinctly empty.

* It may have had an entirely different intention in any case. Rumours of a Council sell-off were circulating at the time.

Note: Images have been electronically altered to protect the privacy of subjects. All photos BtB.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

City shocker: "jelly mould-like"

Recently I posted about the plans for ‘Science City’. This scheme, long in the planning, seeks to turn the huge former Scottish & Newcastle brewery site just to the west of the city centre into a mixed teaching, research and accommodation area for Newcastle University and perhaps more offices.

The Cameron Coalition government intent on retrenchment is cutting back on government funding and the project, according to this report from The Evening Chronicle, may be ‘on hold’, if not scuppered. Extract from the article below.

Will Science City survive?

FUNDING for a flagship regeneration project could be lost as a result of the cuts.
Council chiefs fear the decision to axe regional development agency One North East will mean the £8m the organisation pledged for the Science Central scheme will no longer be paid.
And the Chronicle can reveal incoming leader Coun David Faulkner has written to business secretary Vince Cable to urge him to safeguard the project.
Science Central is being developed on the site of the former Tyne brewery, which was bought by the council, One North East and Newcastle University, and will host the city’s green energy research centre, in the hope it can underpin a new era of hi-tech jobs.
One North East had given approval in principle to invest in the project but after the Government announced it is phasing-out RDAs, there are concerns both the funding could be axed and the site itself could be sold.
A decision on which schemes will still receive cash from One North East will be made next month. Meanwhile Coun Faulkner has written to Mr Cable to emphasise the importance of Science Central, which comes on the back of his visit to the region, during which city leaders discussed with him the future of assets owned by the RDA.
The letter says: “I understand of course the need for central Government to secure good value from those assets. But it is important to distinguish passive assets from those that are an integral part of local regeneration and business development schemes.
“Newcastle’s most significant example is the Science City projects: a three-way partnership between Newcastle University, the council and RDA to bring technology businesses to the heart of the city. In this case a transfer of the RDA’s interest into a bilateral partnership of the university and council is a logical means of moving forward with a vital scheme for our city.”
Newcastle City Council’s new director of policy, strategy and communications Andrew Little said: “There is an understandable need for Government to manage-out the assets the RDA owns but what we are saying is that Science Central is different to many other assets because it is part of economic regeneration.”

Source: Evening Chron. Online 16.08.10

"Science City" Photo BFTB

Meanwhile ... The national press have identified a prize winner for a recent architectural addition to the city’s skyline. Read to the bottom of the piece. I promise a photograph soon.

Source: Carbuncle Cup 2010 The Independent 13.08.10.