Monday, December 22, 2014

Full Circle

Another year comes to a warmish and wet close. More activity around Battlefield than in previous years: A cycle track and another huge student accommodation block nearing completion with what looks like another being built alongside. How many more student accommodation blocks can this city sling up? Maybe next year comes the answer. (A former trading estate site close by Battlefield has been cleared for development …)

To close the year's blog posts a record of a recent walk around the patch I call Battlefield here.

With Best Wishes to you and yours at this season of goodwill.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Grace notes

What struck me when I came to live next to the dene that carries the Ouseburn down to the River Tyne, was the speed with which one could move from quiet suburban streets into woodland and riverside. That and the visible signs of past occupations, the remnants and the patch work of time. No planner does this and it is quite impossible to re-create outside of a television or film set.

It is the reason now that when planners do think of heritage the ideas are as fake as Mary Poppins Old London Town. Someone once told me – and this may be true – that a lot of city re-creation efforts (hard design) are sourced from a style manual: 'Victorian' lamp posts, bespoke paving slabs, authentic cobble-type features, bollards and litter bins and so on; all mail order heritage. One can find this tat everywhere now.

Untidy as it is, the genuine arises from and through human activity over a long time period and should be cherished as such. Time apparently is in short supply now. Imagination in very short supply.  The public has to be ushered through life like tourists being fed the basic facts – 'Got it?' – and rushed off to the next sales point. Our function as consumer spending units is being underlined to us in so many ways in so many places. Time is blurring before our eyes. Everything is the same and has never altered.

This photographic journey was lazy leisurely and thoughtful. I share it with you here.

Grace notes

Monday, October 27, 2014

The colour of money

Too much is about value, not nearly enough about worth. Battlefield is an asset to some, it's value locked up for now, one day to be released – asset stripping sanctioned by Coalition Law.

Enjoy what is there before it goes.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Strength through joy

I am trying hard to see something good in the latest round of "We need to talk about Battlefield".

Since I cannot stop it, let me look at the bright side of this unnecessary 'environmentally sound' initiative.

Battlefield is not Public Open Space. Now, following Coalition legislation passed in this Parliament and one, at least one I know of, Judicial Review, it could, in more than just theory, be sold off. This new work makes that threat more distant.

For reasons I did not understand nor learn, Battlefield was not included in the National Lottery Bid that included Armstrong and Heaton Parks and adjacent green spaces. Why? It forms a link in the chain along the Ouseburn after all. Perhaps this investment (like it or not) will make up for that omission. Personally, I always felt the reason was that Newcastle City Council wanted to sell the land. Again, the creation of a super cycle highway puts that suspicion into the background. For now.

It could be worse. Many trees were felled but others thrive.

True, but I could see no good reason to fell as many trees if bends in the existing cycle path had not been straightened out, I presume for reasons of increasing cycle speed.

The mixing of pedestrians, which in the past has always included many small children, buggies and dogs, next to a cycle track designed for high speed is in my view dubious. The large timber baulks placed alongside would have needed to be touching and continuous to ensure complete safety. Unfortunately, that would block crossing traffic. 'Havens' have been created to help pedestrians avoid being run down. We shall see how that works.

Also problematic are these exercise machines (shown above). No. I have never seen anyone using one for real either. The near by 'Tyne' sculpture was vandalised almost at soon as it was in place. I await developments.

Maybe I am being over pessimistic. Perhaps this work shows the Council have had a change of attitude and are serious about retaining and enhancing Battlefield?


Much of the Old Paint Factory site remains presently undeveloped, having had just one of five planned student accommodation blocks erected on the land to date. As this blog has recorded around the city – particularly at Gallowgate – there are now numerous large, all 'mod cons', student blocks opened or opening soon. Can any more be required even in this massive student city? Should the answer be negative, then a suggestion (via my old friend Neil) would be the creation of an extended 'park' between the existing (Not) Public Open Space and Stepney Road, including new routes down into the lower Ouseburn that do not require Jungle Jim clothing and a compass? It could be the making of a fine urban place.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


The construction of the cycle speed track over Battlefield continues (at snails pace it must be said).

The roots of the many trees felled to make this environmentally friendly (sic) race track have been piled up like corpses after a battle.

The hardcore has been laid, next comes the tarmac and then …?

… at a guess: Speed.

It will be interesting to see how well the construction of "havens" protects the very young and dogs from cyclists who already seem as though engaged in a pursuit contest.

Meanwhile, cycling is attracting criticism elsewhere (off site link). It's not all about gold medals by the sackful.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pigeon free Milton Keynes

I visited Milton Keynes this year and saw the future. It reminded me of a saying of Kirkegaard's that thoughtful revolutionaries leave everything as it is but empty it of significance. It's not that Milton Keynes is dull; it insists upon it. Nowhere I have ever been lacks character. Everywhere has a 'character'; it's unavoidable. The character Milton Keynes has is similar to that of a modern bus shelter. There is not a lot more to it than what one can see at a glance and mostly it's the incidental and appliqué that stands out and provides further interest, if at all. In 'MK' its just there isn't any of the incidental. It isn't allowed. Sitting in one of the several restaurant chains that are only culinary delight of MK and watching the sun set I noticed something odd. There were no pigeons.

These thoughts come via an article from the BBC web site on post war planning in the UK, particularly the 'new towns' built to address the housing needs of a country that had seen no public investment in wartime and lost three quarters of a million homes to bombing.

"People actually didn't like their lives being reorganised in this way," says Hebbert. It was seen as paternalistic, "a top-down manoeuvring of people's lives which the free British citizen became increasingly unhappy with".

"You kind of go from visions of utopia to critiques of subtopia" adds Clapson, citing architecture critic Ian Nairn's term for unsightly, sprawling suburban development. – Tom Heyden

Today an ever expanding UK (particularly, southern England) population has created pressure to 're-evaluate' the new town concept. It reads as if some people, faced with a dilemma that cannot be squared (population expansion, limited land and intense opposition to building on green field) are trying to see the good side in a movement that succeeded in housing thousands of people but became rapidly synonymous with the breakdown of cohesion and compassion.

The article can be read here online.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vote for Art

Another article that highlights the way art (and artists) are used to prop up a declining civic and commercial sector. Making this point today would seem now to be unnecessary in so many places, in the U.K. and abroad; old hat. So what?

You'd be surprised. When this city's revitalisation fantasies were fuelled by copious amounts of (borrowed) money in the years before 2008, mentioning the role of the arts in creating success for a depressed post-Industrial city centre fell on some very unhappy ears. I was myself slapped down in public by a highly paid well filled suit piloting a 'Shop til We Drop' strategy for this city for even mentioning it. Artist's he said with a wrinkled nose, were perverts. The big name stores would be lured into town and, given easy plastic credit then available no questions asked, so would the shoppers. High Street UK. Weirdo and pervert free.

It flopped.

What do we have now in my fair city? An ever increasing café society and more art galleries in abandoned commercial premises. Who would have predicted that?

Latest redundant English sea side town to see the art route to a future – any sort of future – is Folkstone, like fellow struggler, Margate and sharing many of the same problems. The London Observer's Tim Adams explains here. (Off site link.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer's end?

Hopefully, not. I am posting a photographic gallery of a walk along familiar paths from my home to the shops on Shields Road that, like a cross section through a tree, is for me a record of time passing.

The first photograph is taken from roughly when I sat on a then yellow painted local authority owned and run bus the first time I laid my eyes on what I call Battlefield. I can remember the dismal grass and broom handle thick sapling trees, recently planted, and a certain forlorn look, as if no one gave this patch much of a chance. It did not seem to me to be a place at all and I doubted the trees would survive vandals as I had seen in another city further south. Wrong. They survived long enough to be cut down by a very different class of vandal. (See my previous post.)

Battlefield 09.08.14

But others are thriving and alongside the refurbished (and magnificent) East Coast Mainline Byker Bridge there is now a mature woodland. The forlorn has been transformed by nature's hand. It is no idyllic place; it challenges in some ways. But if one turns one's mind and looks at matters from another standpoint, survival, even compromise can be noble. I've lived to see it with my own eyes.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Enlightenment comes via piece of junk mail.

Very occasionally someone puts the Jesmond Residents Association (JRA) newsletter through my door. I'm technically not living in Jesmond, I think, and I'm no member of the JRA. But I am grateful to the Association for information that relates to the cycle highway being rapidly constructed across 'Battlefield' as quickly as the trees can be felled. Sustainable but not for amenity obviously.

"Last summer [2013] the City Council was awarded 5.7 m[illion GBP] by the Department of Transport (DfT) from the City Cycle Ambition Fund. …" (JRA newsletter Summer 2014. Additions in square brackets byBtB).

Whilst the newsletter doesn't mention 'Battlefield' – and who ever does? – it is obviously part of the same "strategic cycle route" planning discussed in the note.

Some might think it a fair exchange, trees for a safe cycle route. But there was such a route already. Making it so cyclists can be tempted to speed past pedestrians with no protection for either is seemingly inviting trouble. Maybe leaving things as they were would invite caution? It would certainly have saved a lot of trees.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fast Track

I got my camera back from where I had left it and hurried to catch up on the building of the new cycle track across Battlefield. As I began photographing, a couple who live near by spoke to me. They had come to see the destruction first hand. It had come as a nasty shock to them also. As far as we could see, the current pathway, divided equally between pedestrians and cyclists, was adequate. Both were outraged as myself to see what now lay besides the path.

The fallen of this Battlefield had been 'done in' all right. Sawn off at the stump, large pieces lay in the sunshine awaiting collection. From the position of the trees it was easy to work out the intended alignment of the new track, straighter than at present. This could only be for one reason: Speed.

What is taking shape is nothing less than a road. The simple printed notice strung innocently to a lamp post states there will be 'haven's' along the roadway. Havens are places of safety. Why would one need such places here? I think I know the answer.

Meanwhile, here is a tribute to some harmless trees, brought down to satisfy 'a cunning plan' to recruit that growing constituency of cyclists to local political allegiance.

In Newcastle it may be truly said – "plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose …"

Battlefield 28.07.14

I will follow this story as work proceeds.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Peloton Way

I noticed the works when I spotted the trunks of newly felled trees stacked up on the grass besides the pedestrian and cycle path.

The path that runs across 'Battlefield' from the direction of town towards the suburb of Heaton is being widened. Divided between pedestrians and cyclists, today a flimsy notice tied to a lamp post says the path widening will create 'haven space' at crossroads and even out the dips and climbs. I know of no public discussion about these plans.

The lamp post statement of the bald facts ends with a vague promise of 'some (new) plantings', presumably to make up for what has been lost.

The widening of the path to the dimensions of a road entails felling trees. A thirty years old or more ash and a mature cherry have ben felled and I counted eight other stumps – so far.

I had never seen any difficulty with the arrangements as they were. The path was clearly divided  and most people walked on one side while others cycled by, a very few at speed. Maybe the cyclists want something more like a road? And why would one want a haven space?

I speculate the aim of these works is to increase separation between cyclists and walkers (how remains to be seen) to allow for greater speed, inspired no doubt by the cycling craze and speedier bicycles. I hope this doesn't mean we are in for this ...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Under mined

I spent this afternoon – hot and humid – in an air conditioned (well they opened a window) room at Gateshead Civic Centre to hear the proceedings of the Planning Inspector looking at matters arising from the (in)famous Core Strategy planning document for Tyneside's four local authorities. Hence matters concerning Newcastle were discussed in Gateshead, south of the river.

The room was packed. I stood at the back where I could both see and hear well.

Initially I struggled. There was a lengthy discussion of the proposals for a spine road in the Great Park. Apparently this conversation had been carried over from before lunch before I arrived. The details for the road to serve the sprawling sub-topian ghetto that is the Great Park turned out to have been incorrectly described and at variance with some of the plans as presented to the Inquiry. Newcastle City Council's own planning team appeared to either be woefully unprepared or plain baffled. "Have you run this past a lawyer?" asked the Inspector. (Laughter). Good start I thought.

Having decided the spine road question would have to be settled at a later date, the Inspector turned to the matter that brought me hither: Persimmon Home's desire to redefine the Green Belt to allow them to build a large estate of new houses next to Gosforth Nature Reserve, owned and managed by Northumberland Wildlife Trust. The land, that Persimmon bought ages ago, is currently farmed by a tenant. The Trust feared that the steady advances in the Reserve's biodiversity (including many rare and protected species today) would be terminally compromised. The driving force, however, comes from Save Gosforth Wildlife. They led the objector's who are numerous.

When I last attended one of the meetings the Save campaign called in Gosforth some time ago, the scheme Persimmon proposed was for circa 500 houses that would have completely sealed off one side of the Reserve boundary with housing. The Trust pointed out that certain species, albeit large and visible species, used this 'buffer land' to forage or commute; it also connected the reserve to sites lower down the Ouseburn river that housing would effectively block. Present tranquility (itself a selling point for developers ironically) has meant shy species including otters have returned to the Ouseburn and ventured down stream into Jesmond Dene. The Ouseburn river then, acts as a cord joining together the green lung that is Jesmond Dene, Armstrong Park, Heaton Park, and the Lower Ouseburn. The wildlife interest is growing. Because of its locality close to the city, recreation (a golf course nestles bedsides the Reserve forming another green boundary) the footpaths through the site attracts walkers exploring the long distance hikes out to the north of the city; joggers and cyclists and, of course, natural history buffs. It rates very high in terms of the 'amenity scale' drawn up by Newcastle City Council's own planners and has no equal within the city or adjacent Green Belt. In short, Gosforth Wildlife Reserve and its immediate surroundings are a gem in the city's none too shiny crown.

The developers kicked off representations and at once I was staggered to learn they were now proposing a scheme less than half the size of the original plan, located furtherest away from the Reserve as their land holding would allow, the direct result of public outcry over the first plan. This revised plan, itself a further revision, was submitted (electronically, I presume) to the parties in the matter at 7 o'clock the previous evening!

An early exchange between the developers and the Newcastle council planners revolved around the latest flood risk assessment. At least half the land looked to be inside an area now deemed as highest risk! In a remark that had me (alone among his listeners) laughing out loud, the developers spirited spokesperson advised the Inspector his company were no longer planning to build on an area of flood risk! Instead, they were proposing to site their scheme in that part of the site less exposed to flood risk. The Newcastle Council team demurred at this claim. They had a new, new flood assessment map ready to hand and the siting of the new, new housing proposed was betwixt and between the most and the next lowest as they saw it. After listening to this exchange quietly, the Inspector took representations from 'other interested parties' which let in the wildlife objector's spokespeople.

James lead for Save group. He spoke about the directives of the city council in regard to amenity; Gosforth Nature Reserve fitted these perfectly, perhaps better than any other single site in the city. This exceptional reserve could not possibly survive if the scheme were to be granted and was impossible to reproduce elsewhere. Then John, chair of the Save group spoke, wittily, querying the grounds for the scheme as announced in the Core Strategy and the likelihood that other land sited elsewhere in Gosforth of no wildlife interest was going to become available for re-development in the near short term. This was disputed by the Council's planners who quibbled over the meaning of 'short' term. The Inspector, a patient and thoughtful man, enquired if the land in question, currently used for industrial purposes, had been explored by the Council planners. They said they had 'looked' at it, but showed no great interest in going further. Their view was that this site would be a distant re-development prospect. John came back once again but the matter was left as, at best, undecidable.

So far, so not much. The flooding risk to the site, the variation in ecological advice the developers received, all seemed to get mixed up and I and one of my companions felt the decisive arguments were slipping away from sight.

Then came the bombshell. The ground beneath, as it is wont to do, shook. There exist very good reasons to support the presumption that coal mining in past centuries has occurred beneath the land in question. (Newcastle is, as is well known, riddled with old coal mines that everyone appears to have forgot until, in the dead of night, a distant boom announces another collapsed gallery somewhere below … This has happened to friends in South Gosforth.)

Amazingly, the developers had not had an assessment of old coal workings done for the site, though the Save spokespeople pointed out a survey completed close by had revealed such workings in what were termed 'shallow seams'. It is possible to find examples of mining subsidence quite close to the city and a sudden large collapse near Newcastle airport made the national news about ten years or so ago. The idea no discovery had been attempted here was astonishing. Oversight or worse?

The discussions had come to something of a successful conclusion after all. The newly appraised flood risk and the unknown mining subsidence issue factored together to paint a picture that was unfavourable for house building, to put matters mildly. By now, even the Newcastle City planners had reclined back into their chairs and the body language spelt trouble for Persimmon, who had run out of arguments and friends anywhere in the packed room. A bit about the suitability of the site from the sustainable transport view was neither here nor there, suddenly. The Green Belt looked secure.

Persimmon must clearly have felt they were sailing into choppy waters by changing their plans at the last minute, scaling back the scheme even further into a mere token sector of the site. Why do that if the scheme was no threat to the local ecology as they claimed English Nature had advised them? If a single brick is laid on this land it will be inexplicable as to reason. Fingers crossed!

[Edited 04.07.14 for clarity]

Do visit the links above to see what the Reserve and surroundings have to offer and, if you can, pay it a visit.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bubble Wrap

Newcastle, parts of it, have seen an extraordinary wave of building development for student housing. The scale would be remarkable in a city twice as large. The speed of this construction – in a little over two years vast concentrations of 'apartment style living' have been erected like Meccano towers around the city. The traditional shuttering that screens sites are now no longer brown plywood not even painted over and stuck up with warning signs; these carry advertisements complete with photographs of lavish interiors more frequently in the past associated with holiday brochures or budget hotel web pages. No more 'student digs' (though one developer, a Mayfair registered property and investment company, has artfully called its joint venture with 'Uni's', the successor bodies to the old, academic-style university, DIGS).

It is, of course, a bubble. Like the financial bubbles of the past (some fuelled by frenzied property speculation) it will burst. Overnight.

The reason for the astonishing expansion of student accommodation is China. Chinese value enterprise and personal development, as heirs to one of the great cultures of the world. The arrival of large numbers of young Chinese in the United Kingdom has helped to create the financial basis for the expansion of higher education, the re-building (in some cases 'building') of campuses, such as been happening in Newcastle's two 'Unis' to judge by the smear of Corporate street furniture and spacial window dressing in which they have been indulging themselves.

China is exporting money and students in quantity. Soon I believe, this traffic will reverse; China, newly equipped and skilled, is already embarking upon its own university building programme. It will in due course offer courses to foreign students in turn. Cheaper. And there are other, local, murmurings of disquiet. (1) (2 £)

What then of the thousands of bespoke 'apartments', single rooms and shared spaces of BroadBand City®? Who cares? Take the money and run like last time.

But the legacy will remain.

Bubble wrap
Bubble wrap  (Off site link)

As an opportunity to create distinctive buildings and re-shape older, less favoured areas of this de-industrialised city, there was great scope; the influx of people and spending represented by new residential development together with sound and well understood impacts – a feel for place, for example – has been overtaken by a level of aggressive mercantile greed minus a belief in anything other than the market. The concept of 'Flat-pack' design has ignored even rampant Victorian opportunism's nod to 'higher powers' exemplified in those solid regional civic buildings that survived the 20th century's wrecking ball. In looking at these newer buildings one is looking at a machine for making money and nothing more.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Threatening ...

… Rain, as it happens, rather than undesirables (or local types as I would name them). An eager young PR man in a jacket and tie, like we saw on 'mockumentaries' such as '2012' or 'WiA' (two very funny British send ups of the London Olympic organisation and the BBC) took pains to warn me a few years back. He told me that parts of the open space I call Battlefield were 'threatening'. He was being handsomely paid (at least I hope so; I'd hate to think anyone does these sorts of smear jobs for free…) by my beloved Council to parcel up the open space and hand it over to a university and property developer (are they actually different entities nowadays?) to dispose as they wished. Covered with tarmac and rented out by the square yard for car parking was and remains my best guess.

Open space has plenty of champions, but no friends in high places.

The rain when it came was 'soft' as the Scots say; that fine warmish stuff of summer. A couple of days of reasonable weather has broken but I needed to get out whatever the conditions.

So, I set off on my walk to the supermarket in lovely Byker to record what I saw; nothing amazing just the ordinary we walk past much of the time, more's the pity.

A photographic record (off site link) here:–

Friday, May 16, 2014

Early fall

Newcastle City Council's Newcastle stroke Gateshead 'Core' document just dropped a few leaves in turning over. The valued architectural heritage is only valued when it can not be bought and sold and demolished.

Somehow one of the city's gems, Summerhill Square off Westgate Road, does not count despite its historic significance and liberal amounts of cash spent doing much of it up late last century. Part has now been demolished to make way for a large town house; or, at least, what was there has come down. Old readers of this kind of news will recall other episodes where the act of demolition of historic buildings somehow transformed the published plans subsequently (cf Old Eldon Square). Don't be surprised if this site becomes  a supermarket. For some reason this whole farrago reminds me of a line in a favourite film –

"I gotta have lots of money so I can juice the guys I gotta juice, so I can get a lotta money so I can juice the guys I gotta juice."  Marty Augustine in The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman 1973)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A round of golf with HM the King

Charles the First, King of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland was held prisoner in Newcastle following his defeat in the 17th century English Civil War. News of his remaining supporters' catastrophic loss at the Battle of Naseby at the hands of Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentary forces reached Charles whilst he was playing a round of golf, a sport to which he was dedicated. If my history serves me correctly, he carried on playing.

He fled to Scotland, his Stuart homeland, but the Scots were even less impressed by him than the English and, so, investing Newcastle, occupied the city and made themselves unpopular amongst Geordies. Having run up quite a few bills supporting the English Parliamentary cause his Scottish 'countrymen' wanted to swap His Majesty for coin, which duly, grudgingly, took place.

Charles however, was not done and played a very silly game with his captors and finally, all patience with this wilful man exhausted, the zealots among the Parliamentary faction, notably in the army, had him tried, condemned and executed in London on the 30th January 1649. He died, so it was said by onlookers, in a style conspicuously lacking in his reign, resolute and calm. However, the struggle of who ruled and how played out among the 'Anglosphere' peoples down the next century afterwards, most notably in America.

The execution of King Charles the First, 30th January 1649.

I have followed his (putative) footsteps from the site of his captivity (now occupied by a bank …) towards the place where, in olden days open fields gave Charles a chance to practice his game.

The route sets off from the heart of Tyneside 19th century 'Classical' city scape at the top of Grey Street, down Market Street to Shieldfield, now semi-isolated behind a wall of crap architecture and duelled urban motorway. On the walk I snapped some of the few delights and much of what went wrong in the shaping of the Tyneside of the 21st century.

A link to an off site slideshow. Any questions do ask.

A round of golf

Monday, April 7, 2014

Last of Winter

The ritual passage of the Sun southwards brings in 'shorter days' and Winter. To keep the northlands happy, time was altered. An hour's difference between Summer and Winter meant people would not be groping their way to work in supreme darkness during the short winter days of December and January. Greenwich Mean Time gives way to British Summer time in late March. The clocks 'go forwards' on a Saturday so we have a chance to 'get used to it' on a Sunday 'day of rest' (for some).

One year, last century, the clocks were left in place, just to see what happened. In the far north, the sun didn't rise until near mid-morning and there was a fear for road safety. The arguments for and against changing the clocks are still carried on.

Hey, ho… I went to the local supermarket I favour and carried my camera. The afterglow as the Sun set was very fine; students hurried home over 'Battlefield', most walking, some on bicycles. Traffic was heavy with home going workers. Next week the sun would be higher, the evenings longer, suddenly opening up life and entertainment prospects. On Battlefield the trees were still waiting to come into leaf; waiting for the returning migratory birds to join the natives singing as the sun set over the city. Here is a slideshow:

I no longer have time to detail these images one by one with comments. If you wish to know something please e-mail me and I shall do my best to answer your request.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In praise of muck

On my recent walk around Battlefield (the name I give to the piece of open land close to where I live) I meant to record the journey from the mouth of the Ouseburn Culvert from one end to the other:

But, as I strolled I saw that many things have happened since my last visit, last year around autumn. So I took more photographs, ones that would not sit so well with my original theme, distracting perhaps.

Now I've had time to produce another slide show of my walk.

Dirty old town

What I once feared (well, hardly, it was such a racing certainty given who was in charge) would happen to the gloriously inchoate accretion of the Lower Ouseburn, that particular crumminess that immediately makes me feel at home, was happening, even extending.

Some of the new build I welcome; the Housing Association flats being constructed alongside the Byker Bridge (it's not as bad as it sounds) is an interesting, potentially energising initiative. The site has been imaginatively carved out of the steep, well wooded dene. It is also social housing rather than the kind of developments favoured by the over promoted estate agents who run development agencies.

Other sights were far less encouraging.

Whoever thought stainless steel 'street furniture' was a good idea? The Toffee Factory (oh, why do they dream up these stupid names for offices? Is anyone taken in?) has a 'courtyard' lined with tasteful machined cobbles that will never feel a horse's hoof and given a sort of Mr Teasie Weazie vintage quiff of landscaping (nothing is straight), lined with seats no one uses, stainless steel bollards and hand rails (that don't grip when wet) and mediocre garden 'features'. They know their target audience.

More of this smarming to come one fears. The grasp of the Council, Development Corps and their henchmen in Corporateland is tightening round the throat of Lower Ouseburn …

But not quite, and at least, not yet.

I found relief from the embalmers art in piles of fly tipping as I never thought I would, the defiance of it spoke to me. I hate graffiti art, but somehow here I wanted to kiss those who have fought back against this tide of 'taste' washing away history, atmosphere and imagination. Like the landscape artist John Constable (1776-1837), it's the muck I want; reactionary old East Anglian he was, but he spoke truth about Nature. It needed, he said, no varnish to make it beautiful.

"…the sound of water escaping from mill dams … willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts and brickwork, I love such things."

Precisely what the Ouseburn had and will one day, lose.

If you have any questions about these images, please drop me an e-mail and I'll try my best to answer.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Out with the old and in with the old. No, wait a minute …

Newcastle (and Gateshead – don't forget) have cobbled up a Great Leap Forward plan and I have tried to read it, but frankly, …

… you read it.

I did manage to get to this before the will to live began to slip away:

"Protection and Enhancement of Natural Heritage Assets

The Plan recognises that the natural environment is an essential component of quality of place in NewcastleGateshead. The strategic importance of green infrastructure and the many ecosystem services that it offers (such as climate change adaptation, flood attenuation, water management, biodiversity conservation etc) is also fully recognised.

The strategic importance of the River Tyne is highlighted.

The Plan aims to address these issues as set out in Policy CS18: Green Infrastructure and the Natural Environment, through:

 protecting the integrity and connectivity of the strategic Green Infrastructure Network;
 making sure that new developments conserve and enhance green infrastructure;
 maximising the potential that green infrastructure has in adapting to the effects of climate change (e.g. flood water storage, carbon sinks, urban cooling etc); and
 protecting and enhancing biodiversity and geodiversity."

"The importance of the Tyne".
Low Water mark: The Ouseburn Barrage (defunct). A six million (approximately) quid Council Tax payer funded device to ensure that putative upwardly-mobile occupants of loft-style apartments that were not built should not have to look at mud when the tide went out.

The environment is that bit of their 'estate' Newcastle (and Gatesead) as yet have not found a way to either flog off, give away or build over.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mouth to mouth

A day of sunshine from early morning got me out with my camera.

I intended to trace the route of the Ouseburn stream from one side of the culvert it was put into by Victorian 'improvers' to the other. I did but I soon discovered I had been away from the Lower Ouseburn for too long ...

Much has been going on; what I thought might be a stroll turned into a longer walk and many thought provoking sights. Too many to pile into this post. So I will restrain myself and hold to my first and original purpose to take a modest stroll in Spring sunshine. The rest will have to wait.

Ouseburn 25.02.14

As is now usual for this blog, I am posting photographic albums that are stored off site. Please open in a new tab if you don't want to lose the link to BtB.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reach for the TV Control!

Just in!

BBC Four television is broadcasting (10 p.m. BST Thursday 20th February 2014) a programme devoted to the life, options and character of the late great Ian Nairn. It's a must!

The Man Who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn
Radio Times
Review by:
David Brown
Architecture critics Jonathan Meades and Jonathan Glancey are among those lining up to pay tribute to Ian Nairn, a man whose blistering attack on the soulless destruction of Britain by shoddy postwar planning caused a stir in 1955.

Published as a special issue of the Architectural Review, Nairn’s Outrage stated that cities were losing their individuality and spirit thanks to “subtopian” eyesores.

Here, we see how that piece of work led to both the formation of the Civic Trust and a career in the media for Nairn, whose angry and emotional appearances on the BBC proved to be refreshingly unconventional. 


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oh, Good! Something To Watch

Something worthwhile on the telly? Sounds much too far fetched. But today's Guardian promises a new television series by Jonathan Meades is soon to be broadcast on the Post War architecture style known as Brutalism .

I ought to say (nay! Announce!) that for me, Mr Meades can do no wrong.

The Guardian article (link) lists ten examples of Brutalism that Jonathan Meades singles out as noteworthy. One to make the list that I knew well, is the late and by me lamented, Trinity Square Multi-storey car park, demolished to make way for a bland retro-chic re-development, part massive student housing (well, there will soon be no room to sit down at uni) over a mega-market run by one of the country's most rapacious retailers and serial land bank hoarders.

I can't wait to tune into the great man's thoughts.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

'Giving substance to mere wind' – Orwell

Yesterday … It may have been Friday … I had the misguided idea to follow a link to the Newcastle City Council's website and read one of their "strategy statements" outlining plans for the next wave of alterations to this once marvellous city to be imposed on what is, by any standard, a quiescent populace; as if punched and bullied into a corner waiting for the bell to ring.

I glazed over as I read one 'plug and go' generic sentence following another, the deadening prose of choice of the MBA clones that write this muck for large salaries. The impressive part – impressive to beginners I suppose – is the way substance is conjured out of mere wind. Nothing is said that could not be unsaid or denied, altered, changed, transformed or 'negotiated' out of recognition.

Today I came across this piece by The Observer newspaper's architecture critic Rowan Moore commenting on a development proposal written along somewhat similar lines. Mr Moore's powers of derision are masterful. Read it for yourself by following this link.

Just in case the link lapses or there just isn't enough time in your life to lose studying the linguistic skills of charlatans, I hope Mr Moore (and his paper) will excuse a juicy quote on this blog.

"Westminster and the Edwardian group (*), however, expressed their excitement by dropping the lacquered turds of regenerative PR-speak. It would create 400 jobs, they said, ignoring the fact it would be possible to create jobs on this site and still keep the best of the old structures. They spoke of "the spiritual home of British entertainment and cinema", whose spirit they will sap. The development would be "iconic", "a focal point", and would bring "renewed vibrancy". As the great writer Ian Martin recently pointed out "vibrancy" is weasel talk for social cleansing. A pub, you might think, could be vibrant, but that hasn't saved the Hand &am Racquet."

'… lacquered turds of regenerative PR-speak'. Nice one, Rowan.

(* Developers, not a conservation society devoted to Edwardian art and life. AD.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Now… One more time without feeling

By my reckoning (forty years) the current 're-imagining' of the great Newcastle Central Station by John Dobson, one of this country's finest architects, is number three or even four in the series.

Newcastle Central Station 1848 by John Dobson (1787-1865)

Just before Christmas 2013 I took a stroll around the area and saw the television programme style breathless 'makeover' up close, dodging traffic to negotiate temporary pedestrian crossings. I began by taking a closer look at the new Rye Hill Sixth Form College, just a few hundred yards to the west, and worked backwards to the Central Station. The new Sixth Form College building joins one or two others at Rye Hill Campus for having a serious claim to the epithet 'architecture', a rare distinction for new buildings in this city.

Central Station - Rye Hill 29.11.13

But why does Dobson's masterpiece need this treatment? Possibly because of the increasing demands of the motor car? Unlike some other unfortunate sites of architectural heritage, the 20th and 21st century insistence for private vehicle access could always be met here since the lenghty facade and street running past were always of a generous proportion.

No, this is Newcastle City Council's suburbanite curtain twitcher instincts in full flight. Tarting up is their métier. Proof? The title pinned to this exercise in smarming gunk over a sublime sweep of Georgian stone work, is 'Gateway', a title that might have been, probably was, dreamed up by a team of business suited ingenues during Happy Hour at a gastro pub.

Note: All my recent photographic albums are off site links. Please open in a new tab or window as you wish.

Postscript 18th January 2014

An image of Newcastle Central Station after the works have been completed and buses and people have largely been banished; either that, or the artist was up bright and early one Sunday morning.

The inspiration is pure 'shopping mall'; The very thing that has characterised a city – the experience commented upon by every writer since St Paul – the energy, habitable chaos, diverse and often contradictory spaces, the sheer accumulation that any place that has seen continuous large scale occupation over centuries acquires like a patina, is absent here. This is not a city scape but a retail park fashioned by over-promoted estate agents. Kierkegaard wrote once–

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Core Strategy? There's a 'strategy'? This has just arrived (it's an image, apparently) –

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Belated season

Ouseburn November 2013

I had it in mind to post these images (slideshow above) of a walk undertaken in late autumn as a second part of the one posted in November 2013 'scoping' neighbouring Shieldfield. Here it is.

One thing photographs cannot convey are sounds and textures. There are some things I feel that will, thankfully perhaps, remain unique to real experience.

Walk in your own special places and remember: They can be bought and sold.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


All my best wishes to everyone for a happy and peaceful New Year.

I'm not posting as much as I once did; but I have much still to add before I close this page of my life. See you soon.