Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Living Space

'Battlefield' is the name I gave the City Stadium on the edge of Shieldfield and Heaton affording recreational space and fine views over Ouseburn and the Tyne towards Gateshead the south. The 'battle' was to ask our Council (in the late 90s) to think again about building a 1300 space car park over the 'site'. At that time I learned that this piece of greenery has no status as 'open space'. Due to history – it is actually landfill – it cannot be built on as far as I understand so the Council, or, rather, the Council's permanent officials have sought to 'do something with it'. Fortunately they haven't and recent cash-in-hand from government that helps our Council keep its large direct labour force in work meant the creation of a cycle track. The unexpected consequence has been to create er, a park. In 1997 it looked much less so than nowadays. So good things come to those that wait.

Perhaps. The latest threat is to all such informal public accessible spaces in our cities and towns. As Councils face the reality of Austerity 2.0* they have been compelled to think of all kinds of innovative ways to give away pblic spaces up to and including parks and gardens. It might be that going for a walk will involve a ticket or season ticket quite soon; and that casual 'knock up' tennis will put you back a few quid.

Meanwhile, even cities are getting in on the act. Newcastle has still, despite the Curse of Eldon Square, a walk able city centre and byways across town. But some of the newer developments have pedestrianised whole areas. Northumberland Street east of John Dobson Street past City Hall is essentially the property of Northumbria University who have smothered it in corporate business street furniture dross and bling. Other areas are being turned in 'Quarters'. This is a really bad sign. Personally, I feel anyone who thinks in terms of Quarters in a city this old is an addict of fake news and should be helped.

The Guardian is pointing out in  useful way what is happening. True some tidying up and separation of walkers (revellers) and traffic is good. But is coming at a price?

A link to the Guardian online article here. It's very London focussed but unfortunately grabbing formerly public space for a corporate possession and therefore possible exclusive uses, is not confined to London.

The image above is of the quasi open space, Granary Square around the corner from The Guardian's own offices in King's Cross. They know of that of which they write.

* I lived through Austerity 1.0 (1945 –)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Economic Consequence

Two timely posts in one.

First, Save Newcastle Wildlife (off site link here) have made no further progress on getting Newcastle and North Tyneside Councils to face up to their plans to destroy or undermine prime local habitats with aspirational house building and playing fields. Explanations as to how these schemes fit in with previously expensively compiled master plans larded with bold declarations are awaited.

Secondly, a superb article by the ever readable and sane Rowan Moore on the 'studied decline' of a precious national asset (and exemplar to the wider world) being thrown under the bus by the Austerity process. (Full article here). Two governments and, perhaps, a third one currently have pursued an economic policy that has run down the public aspect of national life almost to nothing.

In 1919 John Maynard Keynes wrote the hugely influential The Economic Consequences of the Peace that described the outcomes of financial ignorance overruled by political ideology as leading to disaster and the probability that this in turn would return the world of catastrophic war in twenty years. I do not for a moment suggest an apocalypse will result from spec building and trashing our city parks; but the short sightedness of the policy has a crushing familiarity. Obsession with one factor and ignoring all others – or even that there might be an alternative to the current policy of avoiding accidents by cutting off one's own feet.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Exit stage left pursued by a bear

The 'jungle' that is Jesmond Vale and the dark and mysterious Ouseburn in this high Summer heatwave.

Slide show here (off site link).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lofty motives

It looks like the entrance to smart offices, maybe a headquarters building. It is student apartments.

It seems a week doesn't go by in Newcastle than another apartment block is slated to 'open its doors' this year or next. Is there a sustainable demand? Well that's not quite the point. The spur is investor's looking for a safe bet for hot money.

The Guardian explains all here. (Off site link.)

Bubble I hear you mutter? The sometime top comment under the Guardian piece was this puncturing analysis.

'By the time there's a puff-piece in the Graun, you can be sure that what is actually happening is that incumbent investors are trying to offload to the dumb money. Adverts have started to appear that market single rooms to investors, in the same way that hotel rooms were sold to wide-eyed investors the last time there was over-capacity in the hotel industry; this is a sure-sign that cracks are starting to appear in a 'must-have' investment.
If you really want to do a deep-dive on this industry, then maybe ask how the debt-financing of developers is being guaranteed by state-financed student loans; the short-term cash-flow of the developer is thus rock-solid because the defaults are pushed twenty to thirty years out and borne entirely by the state. Remember that the only thing that is now unacceptable is capitalism for capitalists.'

My emphasis added. I imagined something like this myself when the bubble began to inflate; perhaps I should branch out into financial journalism? ... On line gambling? (Don't!)

More on Newcastle's 'Klondike' student housing bubble here (Off site link: The Evening Chronicle.) The comments below this article are worth reading. My own impression is that students are bringing very little vibrancy and life to the district; with en suite super fast broadband, why would they bother to go out and mix with the local colour? Snacks to keep them going are delivered to the plate glass entrances of these humble villagers pads by Deliveroo cyclists. The developers are, if anything, pushing diversity and variety out of Ouseburn and Shieldfield.

Portland Green Student Village looks nothing like a village. It looks like a collection of corporate dwellings one might expected a distribution hub and warehouse design and build company, Metnor, to have built, which is exactly what has happened. The village is now owned by some hot rods from Asia. Putting up Newcastle's bereft and clueless city planners against such people is like letting children play on line gambling ...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A New Leaf

Timely article. Two mature trees have just been felled in my street and I have the uneasy feeling a mixture of enforced privatisation of street tree maintenance and pre-emptive action against 'lawfare' may be ushering in a wave of public tree felling.

The wonderful Ian Jack writing in The Guardian explains why we should value our public trees.

Read it in full here. (Off site link)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Little boxes, little boxes ..." Revisted

Welcome thoughts on the spreading mediocrity of shanty built 'settlements' over the fast fading Green Belt here. (Off site link.)

Sprawl versus ...

The 'one size fits all' approach could be enlivened by more imaginative designs like those built at Gateshead's Dunstan Staithes development.

 ... urban renewal

Short term gain will inevitably lead to long term problems, not least build quality and maintenance.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Brown study

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (C.P.R.E.) has an up date on brownfield sites to mark a 'change of directive' to local government.

Link to posting here.

Two points come to mind and I shall make them briefly.

Tyneside has numerous undeveloped brownfield sites. They are under developed because private out-for-the-biggest-profit builders have stealthily or not so stealthily bought farmland in the Green Belt to cash in on the 'aspirational country living' market and wouldn't buil;d on brownfield unless forced to. Fortunately most are gerry builders who are being increasingly found out. Answer? Get Danish, Dutch, German or Swedish builders in to the do the job the tax evading British sprawl creators won't do.

Second point is that much of the Green Belt as it stands is merely rye grass and barbed wire. That to needs creative thinking. But is not getting any.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Blue House

 I don't seem to be receiving any updates from a local panel charged with looking at proposals for the Blue House Motor Way Interchange that was pushed forward last year as a solution to growing traffic flows along the Central Motorway, Gosforth and Jesmond Dene Road. Large to huge new housing schemes to the north and north west of the city will require new roads. Or so it goes. (Link to recent doom laden propaganda here.)

This just in from the Campaign to Protect Rural England suggests road building doesn't produce improved traffic flows. Some of us have learned that lesson some time ago.

A link to the C.P.R.E. article on commissioned research is here.

Newcastle: A city fit for cars

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cat swinging is illegal

Another day, another good article on our house building disaster.

Link to off site article here.

An embedded link to a recent Guardian articles is worth following. Another link here.

In Newcastle and Gateshead the office block conversions are likely to be for student accommodation. An extraordinary wave of student housing continues unabated. A friend said she thought that 'when the (student housing) bubble bursts' these places could be re-used for housing non students. This I very much doubt from watching several being built. Whatever, they would be quite dreadful for family life. But then, this boom and the associated Green Belt snatch is all about making money not housing for the future.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Yes, but are there big drinks in it for builders?

An article on new build in places where people live now. Link (off site)

New build in Sheffield. (Photograph: The Guardian)

Timely. Or would have been for Newcastle's vanishing Green Belt. Housing such as the above and other examples from the article demonstrate the logic of building close to existing transport links, health, education and retail facilities. The logic driving the housing on Newcastle's Green Belt is one of profit. 

The result will be more atrocities like Blue House 'roundabout' the gigantic motorway interchange that is the direct consequence of housing developments on the Gosforth–Ponteland axis.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


A well known expression in football when your team loses easily is "Well stuffed". Newcastle's Green Belt has by this measure been "well and truly stuffed".

Planing permission for a huge new town has been given the er, green light, the B.B.C. reports tonight here. (Off site link.)

This won't be just an ordinary land grab though; according to the developer's it's an entirely new community. From this artists impression, a bit like how Disney thinks England should look.

Not Ponteland – Fairyland!

Note full grown trees. This must be sometime around 2075 ...

Someone mentioned brownfield sites awaiting development. They just don't get it do they? How are the movers behind this scheme expected to live in Monaco on the kind of returns 'affordable housing' brings in? (The "It wasn't possible to achieve our target for affordable homes after unexpected additional costs were incurred on this site" i.e. flood protection, excuse will be along soon.)

Well at least today's youngsters unable to afford even affordable homes in localities such as this will be able to look back and say "I remember when it was all fields around here".

Friday, March 10, 2017

Back to back to backs

Apropos recent posts, this video on B.B.C. News surfaced today: Link (off site)

It's only taken a disgraceful housing crisis to demonstrate what others have been urging for decades; good quality mass housing.

Once our large cities had whole areas that comprised 'back-to-back' terraced housing. These were solidly built though not without problems. Thousands were demolished and replaced with tower blocks (and incidentally the enforced transport of many long established traditional communities). In many instances these quickly became vectors of crime and dysfunction. These schemes also awarded themselves prizes and commendations from architects and planners who ensured they never lived in such places.

Building on the Green Belt is both transgressive and unsustainable. It increases environmental costs in transport and provision of services. In Newcastle it is impacting on settled communities as road links have to be ungraded to match the expected flows. The chosen areas of Green Belt have already had a disastrous effect on the natural environment and have yet to 'get into their stride'. These chosen areas are along the least appropriate axis for this city, depending for access on the choke point of Gosforth. It remains to be seen how this spectacular planning mistake can be reconciled.

Meanwhile, large tracts of under used or redundant land along the east west Tyne axis is crying out for investment. This 'development strip' contains existing mature patterns of communication – bus and light rail, contains numerous schools and access to healthcare facilities.

What housing development here does not promise is the quick profit of monetising a publicly created asset for private gain.

Havannah Nature Reserve Red Squirrel. Havannah is under threat from developers.

Link to Havannah online petition here (off site link)

Monday, February 20, 2017


From The Guardian article 

The post World War Two planning acts were inspired by walkers. Beveridge, founder of the National Insurance, and the aristocratic socialists, the Trevelyans (joined by others such as author and Irish Independence fighter Erskine Childers), went out of London pre World War One to 'walk and talk' around the nearest countryside at hand. Between them they founded the Welfare State in principal. A feature of this concept were arts and leisure. The 19th century 'Satanic Mills' that crushed impoverished people in slums were on their minds as much as employment, health and education. They shaped the way Britain's society thought and acted up to 1979 and the Thatcher Revolution.

Sprawl was the besetting sin of Britain's unregulated house building. These environmental concerns were shared by many outside the circle of well placed people out on a jaunt. They crop up in George Orwell's novel Coming Up For Air (1939). Housing was creeping out over the green fields of England, particularly, without any care for either common standards, suitability or amenity. The post war 1945 re-construction was planned; new housing based on existing patterns of living, with bomb sites in cities cleared and new forms (as far as Britain knew) of architecture rising up. Alongside these initiatives the legacy of the walkers was to be found in the famous Green Belt legislation protecting access to open landscapes. Our great cities and towns had to provide green spaces for recreation, seen as crucial for physical and mental well being.

Today all the Green Belts are under pressure and some have already been 're-developed' as pressure for new housing grows year on year (ignoring the hundreds of thousands of empty properties around the country and brownfield within easy reach of populations). Now the quality of such quick money schemes is coming into focus. Many of the mass housing builders have a poor record when it comes to quality, with often more thought spent on superficial details than solidity; the timber frame and plastic decoration approach. This is piling up problems for the future.

A report in today's Guardian highlights these building issues with Bovis in the middle of a developing scandal (where are the building inspectors or were they done away with?); but in truth, other big names keep coming up in connection to shoddy work and quick profits, much of which stems from the premium that can be added to the selling price when selling houses built in 'leafy locations'.

The article in full here.

Some of the comments below the article are worth quoting:

"I used to work for one of the biggest housebuilders in the UK and there is absolutely no chance that I would ever buy a new build from any of the main players. A small, local builder, maybe, but Bovis, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Barratt, Bellway etc - no chance."

The same commenter replies to a request for detail to support her (his, their) claims with this:

"Because they are all about volume and speed. They're usually predominantly timber framed, dry lined wooden boxes. I don't believe they'll stand the test of time. They bang them up as quickly as possible and the perception is that there's more money in doing that and sorting out the inevitable snagging problems later than there is in taking the time to do it properly in the first place.
The rooms are too small - did you know they use furniture that is smaller than standard in the show homes to give the illusion of space? When you put your own double bed in the biggest bedroom there'll barely be room to walk round it. Land is a valuable asset so your garden will barely be big enough for a swingball. There are also now stories about homes being sold leasehold with the freeholds being sold on to third parties and not made available to the homeowners so that remortgaging or selling after a few years requires a new lease which the freeholders can charge a mint for."

I once met a professional photographer who told me he had just been out on an assignment for a new build project providing shots of furnished interiors for the sales brochure. He had had to use wide angles lenses to make the rooms seem much larger. He also told me (confirmed years after by another friend) that the furniture was specially designed to be assembled indoors because it would be impossible to buy furniture and get it delivered through the narrow doors or up tight staircases. These were not cheap houses either.

This is a very bad way to go about building homes for living. We have been here before and the outcomes were bad news, but I suspect we are staying this time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ghetto. It's 'official'

Some years ago – well before the current 'gold rush' of student developments swept over this part of Newcastle, a correspondent criticised my use of the word 'ghetto' in connection with student housing. I took the point, and the negatives are all there to be fair.

What concerned me was the effect of this 'zoning' on visual variety social diversity and interaction. When anywhere becomes so exclusive to a single limited purpose it loses a great deal. Zoning was popular with town planners fifty years ago. Living here within this zone or circle on a map; then shopping here in another circle drawn on a map; and an industrial zone. The results were dire, the worst example of all time being Milton Keynes.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle has tripped over the 'g' word now and obvious discontent with what looks like a jerry built environment running like a rash over Shieldfield has made it into the local press. Read here. (Page has pop ups and advertising. Be warned.)

I heard the 'castle' building on Shieldfield Lane, one of the last quirky bits left has been bought and is going to come down. This will replace it:

 Flair much? Budget hotel? Students must be really dull people; or least finance companies and Uni's p.l.c. must think so. Having seen a couple of Vice Chancellors close up (not so close I was worried for my wallet) I would plumb for the latter explanation.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What did I just say?

Two posts in one day! But this is apposite to the last. More updates on attempts to concrete over the Green Belt from the ever hopeful and hard working Rachel Locke and John Urquhart of Save Newcastle Wildlife

By e-mail:

"Dear all,

The door of the New Year is still ajar, so there is still time to wish you a Happy New Year – Chinese style! – and to enlist your support in protecting green space in and around Newcastle.


Ponteland is currently besieged by planning applications set to further erode the green belt.

The Banks Group has its sights set on churning up more green belt with 400 houses by Rotary Way (16/04408/OUT), while Lugano’s plans for a 2,000 house ‘Dissington Garden Village’, north west of Darras Hall (16/04672/OUTES), is still being considered, despite Northumberland County Council’s failed submission to central government for backing for this proposal. Only 14 Garden Villages were announced by the government and Dissington Garden Village was NOT one of them.

Northumberland County Council has not yet finalised its local plan, which is due for public examination in Summer. To allow these applications to proceed before a consistent plan is approved would be premature and would result in disproportionate loss of green belt.  

Both applications have attracted hundreds of objections already.

To object to the Banks application please register here to make a comment: http://ow.ly/qnKw308tSSW

To object to the Lugano application please register here to make a comment: http://ow.ly/HIQ3308tTw7

Alternatively you can object to both applications by emailing planningcomments@northumberland.gov.uk quoting the individual planning references on each email. 

Save Our Green

The Save Our Green group is urging people to support the campaign against building on the last green space on the Montagu Estate, in Kenton.

The planning committee will meet this Thursday, 2nd February, at 9.30am in Newcastle Civic Centre, where the application (2016/1703/01/DET) will be considered. Please attend if you can.

If you can’t make the meeting, it looks like you can still object to the application here http://ow.ly/y7gR308tVrh

Havannah Nature Reserve

We are still awaiting the planning application for Cell A, adjacent to Havannah Nature Reserve, which could see 1,200 houses, some of them just 30 metres from the reserve. We were advised the application would be submitted before Christmas and then that it would be in last week, so it must be due imminently. In the meantime, we are still encouraging people to sign the Don’t Hem in Havannah petition http://ow.ly/2TUF308tVOg

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve

We are still awaiting confirmation as to when the Persimmon application for 238 houses opposite Gosforth Park Nature Reserve (16/01304/FUL) will go before committee. It would appear that North Tyneside Council is still resolving some issues with this application. You can still comment on the application here http://ow.ly/cej8308u0hW

Thanks you for your continuing support.

 Best wishes,

Rachel Locke & John Urquhart

Save Newcastle Wildlife 

The Housing Crisis (contd.)

Much to think about in this article in today's Guardian newspaper. It must be said that the author's  point about a shortage of brownfield sites applies to the south east of England. But the point he makes about the kind of new housing that developers prefer is wasteful of land is helpful.

Read the article here.

I have seen schemes in the near Continent that provide well designed high density housing that are a new look at an old idea – the tenements of Scotland. In a 'market led' industry these would not sell as well (f at all) in many places; but stylish 'loft apartments' in trendy places do. There is much scope for imagination; or, if that is in short supply a visit to neighbourhoods in Holland, Germany and Denmark would be instructive.

Meanwhile, Newcastle strides ahead with developing its Green Belt. What's this I hear?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Looking back on 2016

I have tried to keep the bloig active despite something of a sea change in the fortunes of the open space I call 'Battlefield'.

So it was at the turn of the last century. A space to be fought for and against appalling plans. These began (as far as I was concerned; there may have been others before my time ...) with plans to build a huge car park over the running track and 'stadium', a car park to service blocks of offices to be built on the old paint factory site adjacent. When I pointed out to the city planners that there were numerous empty office blocks across the city a Council spokesperson told me these were "... the wrong sort of offices."

Nothing came of that gimcrack scheme. Next on offer were 350 assorted apartments. A housing crash put an end to those, though widespread soil contamination by heavy metal deposits were also a factor apparently ... Not that that little nugget of information presented an obstacle to the next iteration of 'What to do with the old paint factory site?' saga. Student housing, now called 'Student Village', ... city ... ghetto ... whatever.

And that's what we got. What we didn't get thankfully were the proposed playing fields (doubtless private) and embrace of one or other of the corporate education providers (formerly Universities) and their goon squad employees policing the whole area. Well, not yet.

What we did get instead though was a cycle track. I was initially appalled by this, particularly by the tree felling and prospect of dicing with death cyclists, belting along, heads down, 'Wiggins is God' types. This has not happened! A by product (just maybe) has been the recognition of the purpose of the green space as both a safe route and a, well, green space. That tree felling might be a good quid pro quo in the long run if it means no one will try to build a car park over Battlefield.

My work might be said to be done. I don't think so. Not until I see a sign like this displayed:


Meanwhile, a glance back (off site link below) to one of last autumn's 'Indian Summer' days and a stroll through another once severely blighted space, Summerhill Square, now one of this city's gems thanks to dedicated local activists.

http://dunlin.jalbum.net/Summerhill Square/

Best wishes for 2017.