Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Needle Point

I like much modern architecture; not all, just some. The news that a proposal to build an extremely tall tower in Carliol Square (sic) should not produce automatic cries of wonderment or outrage but dry eyed dispassionate conversation.

Carliol Tower (Chronicle Live)

I doubt it will receive any.

My own short reflection is that dramatic new buildings have a way of making one look at the rest. Since about 1900 Newcastle (as opposed to Gateshead) has not been well served architecturally. Added to which the Council down the decades has seen fit to allow the demolition of better and the building of worse. Carliol Tower, if it is ever built, would simply point up this unfortunate truth.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Brave or Short Sighted?

 When planners were king and the people ... well, they were just people.

 It could be anywhere, England Scotland or Wales, north or south. But this is Stevenage.

Note to planners. Communities are not drawn up but evolve. What looks logical is so often tyranny. I could go on but the article says much. What it leaves out is the point.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Slow day

The weather this past month has been some of the sunniest of the year as I recall. It has had the effect of delaying autumn body clocks – mine anyway. I look at the calendar and blink. It is really November? Will it soon be Christmas? Yes to both.

Meanwhile a walk to the shops last week produced these efforts.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Way of the World

Newcastle City Council planning committee have approved the application of Cameron Hall to destroy more of the Green Belt. The Grade II Woolsington Hall was put out of play by the simple action of burning it down. Job done.

Saving Newcastle Wildlife has not quite conceded defeat. It might be better if they did. That way a channel for protest and outcry would be opened.

Saving Newcastle Wildlife writes:

"Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Newcastle City Council voted 8-5 in favour of the applications, which will see the destruction of over 1,500 trees, many of them hundreds of years old, to make way for unnecessary millionaire houses in the green belt.

Although some members of the committee queried whether the financial information relating to the controversial enabling development could be made publicly available, we were asked to leave the room – for less than half an hour – while the committee considered the complex financial information on which the enabling argument hinged.

According to one committee member who had sight of the financial documents the appraisal was ‘all over the place’.

The only hope we have now is that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, will call in the applications.

Private Eye has commented in its Nooks and Corners column on this scandal. The North East is as far as scandals go, Teflon® coated. Has been for decades.

Save Newcastle Wildlife are honourable and dedicated people who believe in the framework of law and legislation. I never felt in the few contacts I had with them that they really understood the forces they were up against.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Wallsington Woods Update
Newcastle City Council counts on subjects being docile shocker!


Meanwhile ... The person or persons unknown who burnt down the Grade II Listed Hall nearly a year ago during the very popular 'Arsonists Festive Season' are still at large. Police are no further forward with their enquiries. We think. They are not saying much. In fact, everyone concerned just wants Newcastle Wildlife to go away.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Arts and graft

Sometime ago, last century, I had an unfortunate encounter with the head of a local quango. I wanted to have a conversation with him about the role of the arts in regenerating this city. He was unused to speaking to oiks and dismissed my suggestion by addressing the room with his views about avant garde art that, in his view, consisted of little more than perversion. I think he may have felt his own enthusiasm for 'High Street U.K.' here on Tyneside was under some sort of threat; or, perhaps depressed at the string of failures of Newcastle's Public Art projects, expensive and very public. He saw only a golden future for retail developments ahead, where people borrowed money they could not (soon, soon) repay to buy stuff from glitzy shops – some of the biggest of whom were being enticed to open branches in Newcastle specifically to perform the task –  stuff they did not need at prices they could not afford, creating ... Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (U.S.) and Leman Brothers went under and the rest of the world followed shortly after, and the rest is, well, where we are now.

Mr High Street went on to higher things, "too big to fail".

The shops struggled and the posher ones failed to roll up. Instead the city centre is awash with coffee houses and 'pop-up' galleries and artsy venues.


But it gets better! News just in ... (link)

So the arts are riding to rescue the city after all. This event promises to be exceptional and proves the underlying point that creative endeavours (such as the tireless volunteers and others working to open the new independent Star and Shadow film theatre and collective bang next to Battlefield) are making an enormous contribution.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Battlefield to Baltic Part the Second

The second a final part of my walk to the Baltic Art Gallery on the Quayside.

When I first came to live in this city, Newcastle Quayside enjoyed a certain reputation. Not a place to stroll along for fun; absolutely not at night. The Tyne was a sewer.

Now look at it!

The first time I ever saw a Salmon leap was here a few years back.

It followed some much needed civil engineering in the 70s and the saving of the Newcastle Quayside from the plans developers who wanted to demolish all of it (!) to build offices. Thanks to the Amber film collective who, under the late Murray Martin had set up on the Side when it was very unfashionable (still there) this absolutely appalling idea was dropped. Much has resulted from that epic decision, some good, arguably some less so. People regret the loss of 'character's' and the edginess of Tyneside and its replacement by swank and money. But I think that's nostalgia; the old Quayside was no haven for anyone by the late 20th century. What's there today works for more people. It has also brought something to this city that was missing up until recently, a 'critical mass' of people who are willing and able to support the arts and leisure industries.

The Quayside is certainly a place to take visitors from anywhere to see what this city has for spectacle and splendour.

The Kittiwakes like it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Battlefield to Baltic Part the First

The sun has deserted today, but a late run of fine days in late summer included one when I took my camera on a walk from Battlefield (a.k.a. City Stadium) to the Baltic Art Gallery overlooking the River Tyne.

The area is changing rapidly as yet more student flats are being constructed and several new blocks have opened their doors. The transformation of the Battlefield (a.k.a. City Stadium) has been a bit breath taking. Once planned to be converted a major car park (1300 spaces!) and having survived some other plans (offices. 'we' need more empty offices apparently) what has happened is the least worse option. I hope some small measure of landscaping around the present paint factory 'student village' (puke) makes the spaces of battlefield and Lower Ouseburn 'knit' together in a way that ensures both have the best of futures. Fingers crossed?

A walk from Battlefield to the Baltic one fine day thus summer: slideshow off site link. (Jalbum)

(Note: This replaces in part a post made yesterday 14th September that ran into gremlins ...)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

London Wins Again

News just in that an architectural critics award known as ther 'Carbuncle Prize', named after a famous remark made by H.R.H. the Prince Charles when he saw a proposed 'addition' to Trafalgar Square designed by Sir Richard Rogers, has been announced in London.

Actually, I agree with the developers of the Lincoln Plaza (dreadful name but when your target clients are foreign investor's ...) that if it sells it must be doing something right. At least the building stirs up some reactions and responses. Much of what has been heaped upon Tyneside has been so mediocre it isn't even bizarre.

The Grade A* starred site of the old Cattle Market, just to the west of the Central Sation and next to Terry Farrell's Centre for Life, was crying out for something special; after all it's almost the first sight from the train coming into the city. What it got was a piece of 'tear a strip off and build it' space holder, now known as Jury's Inn. That must be worth ignoring with some sort of recognition surely?

Jury's Inn: Style less

Friday, September 2, 2016

Get knotted

Co-founder of madcap youth magazine Viz and former local Gosforth resident, Chris Donald has created a visualisation of the new Blue House Roundabout ...

Image copyright ©Chris Donald 2016 used without permission

Meanwhile ...

Battlefield the Beautiful's annual photographic tour is in preparation and will be posted soon. Some large transformations have taken place, many that are welcome but some doubts continue. We shall see.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Blue House Roundabout scandal

Somewhat Off Topic but none the worse for that. Newcastle City Council are proposing to turn yet more of the Town Moor, one of the most extraordinary open spaces left in the country, into tar mac. A huge roundabout – the scale of this effort is staggering – is planned to take the stress out of driving through Newcastle.

Note: The 'roundabout' (sic) is the same size
as nearby allotments on Ilford Road

This plan joins a growing list that somehow characterises the Council's wonky ideas of what this city should be. The best way I know to describe this is "Not Newcastle". It should be abundantly clear to any informed observer that traffic congestion in cities cannot be solved, merely moved to somewhere else. Newcastle is a compact and attractive city in a great setting. Public transport, integrated and affordable is the solution.

There is a petition for objections and I urge you to sign. If you are so moved, you might contact the Council yourself. I am not going to bother. I have had no joy there ever.

The Petition can be found here.

Strangely, a previous study (2013) came up with a much better and cheaper idea. Detailks can be found here (pdf).

Once again Newcastle City Council's pledges to protect and guard this cities heritage is thrown under the, er, private motor car.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Freedom of the Park

 Origin: The Ouseburn running through the last part of the dene
before the culvert that takes it to the River Tyne

It's time to stop pretending that the piece of 'green space' I re-named 'Battlefield' is anything other than park and part of a continuous series of parks that follow the course of the Ouseburn as it makes its way through Newcastle to the River Tyne.

Ouseburn Park (off site link) is here to stay says I!

The Ouseburn culvert entrance

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wet and wild

It's July. It's raining. What's new?

Still, let us look on the bright side if only metaphorically.

Having felled a large number of trees – almost certainly too many trees, – to make a cycle way over Battlefield the Beautiful, the Council turned up and rolled out a wild flower carpet ...

October 2015. Wild flower turf.

I expect to be believed when I say I admire the (mostly defunct) Environment (Parks and Gardens) Division of the Council. Believers to a man and woman they always seemed to me to be on the side of the angels. Yet, here I thought this a long shot. "All to be mud and bare soil soon" I thought grimly.

"Needs less maintenance" one gardener explained to me.

Happily, I was wrong. What a triumph!

More here: (Off site link)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Browned off

It has been suggested that Newcastle's Green Belt has shrunk by 10 per cent, presumably since the Coalition government of 2010-15 relaxed planning regulations in favour of developers. They were naturally delighted to cash in on a publicly created asset for private gain.

The Campaign for Rural England has noticed.

Meanwhile, Newcastle City Council is doing it's best. What does that look like in practice?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

To Have And To Have Not

Timely reminder of how set on 'monetising' the Green Belt local and regional councils have become since 2010, ignoring post-industrial sites for the premium of "country living".

Wayne's World ...

The "gobby northerner" got it right.

Meanwhile Newcastle's planning officials are going to outline their plans to support the creation of an exclusive golf resort at what's left of Walsington Hall, ex-Grade II Listed and surrounding oak woodland.

Honesty is best but crime pays better.

Friday, May 13, 2016

On one hand; on the other ...


Trees. It isn't all about trees. Sometimes it's about natural justice and the rule of law.

Newcastle Wildlife are still squirrelling or beavering or badgering away bless them (him). I doubt they will succeed but I will cheer them (him) on.

Read more here:

Meanwhile, speaking of felling old mature woodlands for a golf course – another golf course, another exclusive golf course for the better sort of property speculator possibly, here is the latest on trees nationally:

Read more here:

Over to you, Newcastle City Council Planning Committee. Hark, is that chain saws I hear!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Green Belt R.I.P.

 Save Newcastle Wildlife, the independent pressure group shunned by Northumberland Wildlife Trust and all others, has a new post.

There is no chance whatsoever of halting this land grab supported as it is by Newcastle City Council and the studied dereliction of the authorities charged with looking after the nation's heritage, but it is important that there should be a protest so the actions of the rich and powerful and corrupted elites do not go by without being recorded.

Petition update

Where does transparency stand in local democracy?

Save Newcastle Wildlife
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
15 Apr 2016 — A Freedom of Information request was submitted to Newcastle City Council on 18th March regarding future plans for Woolsington Hall and grounds.

There is a 20-day time limit for compliance with FOI requests.

On 11th April – almost a month later - the planning officer in charge of the application advised the request was too vague and that the 20-day time limit will be reset until further clarification on the nature of the request is received.

Why the delay?

Newcastle City Council’s Information Governance team is currently reviewing this request.

In the meantime, the future of Woolsington Woods hangs in the balance.

Link to petition etc., here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Degrees of Luxury plc

This from today's Guardian.

"Once upon a time, students lived in the cheapest and grottiest shared houses a city had to offer. First-year students had it even worse, traditionally confined to bog-standard, barrack-like halls of residence tucked away on the edge of campus."

Link to the article here.

Meanwhile, not to be left behind ...

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Like buses, two come along at once. Hard on the heels of Will Self – hitting out at the spread of 'corporate occupation of public space' – comes this from Simon Jenkins. I rarely, if at all, agree with these two but Jenkins makes for my second revision of an opinion inside a month.

He sounds out against the idea that sprawl is the answer to the 'housing crisis', that ever popular shortage by design that keeps property prices and lending high.

Read more.

Meanwhile, all around Newcastle brownfield sites are shunned for the premium available to builders for bricking over the Green Belt. Unless they are whacking up flats for students. More are on the way and sites that were once thought unsuitable for social housing have had money thrown at them by ... yes, who exactly?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Making everything nice ... Part Two

Imagine what the world would look like if it were planned by a single mind. Milton Keynes would be my response. The greater part of the pleasure of being a stroller through a city is the constant contrast, the layered nature of buildings, sudden contradictions and complexity; what one might call 'experience'. None of this is apparent in Milton Keynes, a made to measure new town styled by people for whom living is a constant act of forgetting, like goldfish. But it would be senseless to maintain this absence of what makes city dwelling have some scope for imagination – or a range of responses at all – is not 'what people want'. Many apparently do like ersatz stonework, fake gardening, stainless steel 'street furniture', plate glass vistas and homely multinational corporation Disney-fied nice. Thankfully, some do not.

Previously I wrote that I had read some promising news about those who are resisting the wiping away of every inconvenience or non-corporate worthy (e.g. aged, cracked. eccentric, uncontrolled happenstance) urban space spectacle. I hope this becomes a proper movement, a sort of architectural and shared space version of 'Occupy'. It may happen. As Corporatism spreads, driven by the sense that money and power equals an unstoppable dictatorship endorsed by a lazy, discredited tax system, more of the informal spaces of our cities will drive out those features of urban culture on the fringes that cities have celebrated down the 19th & 20th centuries as effectively as rent increases.

What will be left? Take a glimpse at the future ... (off site link to slideshow)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Making every thing nice ... Part One

I have wanted to point out something for a while. The two universities in this city have become businesses; they do not yet attach 'p.l.c.' to their titles but that is what they are, weird but I think true. They have adopted a corporate style, advertise like the large utility companies or media conglomerates. They promote a discernible 'business model'. Well, what is wrong with that? It is only realistic policy. After all, education is just like any other business when one comes down to it.

Of course, I do not believe it is. But I am hopelessly old fashioned now. This city grew on coal and then engineering, making armaments and ships. Coal and iron ore built ships. Now having suffered enormous industrial decline and closures – industrial history in this part of the world has been landscaped with grass – education and the tens of thousands of students the universities and colleges have attracted, is now the new industrial base. The money this attracts is quite easily more than in the dying days of industrial power, even allowing for inflation. It's a winner in lots of ways.

Except one important way that is growing. The privatisation and control of public spaces.

Take Northumberland Road.

In theory, if not fact, this view is of a public road, what was once quaintly called 'the [Queen's, King's] High Road. For centuries blocking or hindering anyone, be they ever so humble, using such a highway was an offence. I don't know if Northumberland Road exists as a public right of way any longer. I fear its days may be numbered. If they are, what then?

It would be misleading of me to write that this arcane legal definition is what is really troubling me. No, it's the dreadful 'corporate' feel that has spread out over these spaces that concerns me. Things such as these:

 I have never yet seen anyone sitting on one of these things. They are very popular with designers. I have found them in other places, usually associated with offices, insurance and banking, that kind of thing. All this 'hard' and 'soft' landscaping achieves is to iron out eccentricity, nuance and the quirky and organic nature of spaces. In large cities the preferred option now is for everywhere to look like everywhere else, no matter. It seems the 'powers that be' want uniformity and a particularly uninteresting, soulless environment. It always gives me the impression I am somewhere I do not belong and the places themselves seem like machines. Here the idea is to give the impression of money, or at least, look interested in the thought.

Universities were once entirely about ideas, all kinds from classics to economics, music and philosophy, engineering and science. But above all knowledge. Now the big idea is the money business.

Expenditure or investment?

Another timely article about the creeping privatisation of public spaces.


From the article:

"Our parks are in the midst of a funding crisis which will almost certainly see the commercial world take another step inside our public space. Despite the widely recognised benefits that parks provide – in terms of health and wellbeing, social cohesion and biodiversity, as well as protection against flooding and defence against pollution – there is no national body to protect them and no statutory requirement for councils to pay for them."

No surprise there. Private good, public bad it seems.

My question is this: What does private enterprise get for its money? I know what the public looses.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Corporatre space

This is apposite.

I have been pondering writing about what I have seen as a creeping 'corporatisation of public space' across Newcastle and especially around the two Universities and, by extension, their ever expanding property portfolios. Quite apart from the possibility, real not imaginary, that sometime soon we public types will find ourselves shut out or severely curtailed in our daily lives by the 'ownership' of prime city locations and bylaws enforced by private security companies, the designed and over designed spaces themselves are spreading an anodyne and sensation-less landscape of nothingness, removing all those features that make cities interesting, confusing and an expressive presence. I am glad to learn I am not alone. The example given in the link is London, but it applies equally to Newcastle. Or soon will.

So this is apposite (Off site link.)

The comments includes this link to a Channel Four interview that sums up the gulf that exists between corporatist encroachment and defenders public space (Off site link.)

More on this theme to come.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Bland is planned

Not a great day for photography; but clear skies have been rare in these first weeks of the New Year.

Work on two new halls of residence on the old Paint Factory site has begun in ernest*. Soil has been removed and newer arrived. Presumably the old stuff was the "contaminated" soil that prevented this site becoming blocks of private apartments last century. Who knows? Who is telling?

I am growing accustomed to the arrival of these blocks around Battlefield. I do hope enough of the old buildings, an old terrace for example, can survive and perhaps give a much needed 'focus' to this somewhat bland array of dense living spaces. Who knows? If the dreadful corporate architecture and street furniture wears away as quickly here as it has elsewhere, something like an atmosphere might be created and nearby Stepney Bank and the Lower Ouseburn thrive with new life and purpose. I have to be optimistic.

A slide show. (Off site link.) Note snowdrops are almost out thanks to global warming.

Battlefield Tour Jan 2016

*Not to be confused with the superb Ernest's bistro at the bottom of Shieldfield Lane. If you haven't already, try it.