Open letter to Newcastle City Council

My ideas below were originally sent to Newcastle City Council in response to their ‘Newcastle - a working city’ Green Paper on 14th February 2012.

Dear Newcastle City Council,

After reading your Green Paper ‘Newcastle – a working city’ I’d like to put forward a few ideas/suggestions for consideration.

Monument Mall shopping centre

Walking around Newcastle city centre at the weekend, it was pretty bleak and depressing to pass through the Monument Mall shopping precinct. A city like Newcastle shouldn’t have such an obviously failing building like that in such a prime location.

Instead of being so dependent on large, national retailers (who have no roots or loyalty to the region), my suggestion is to change the entire focus of that building into a destination for local art, craft, music and food.

Other Northern cities like Liverpool and Manchester have a clearly defined cultural quarter which includes these types of shops but we don’t, which is weird considering there is a vibrant arts & culture scene in Newcastle. The close proximity to places like the Tyneside Cinema, Theatre Royal would make sense and shops like Waterstones would benefit too.

If I was in charge, I would go so far as to give the units away, rent-free for 12 months to creative start-ups in the same way that The Shed on Gateshead High Street has been done following a suggestion by designer Wayne Hemingway. Only after the 12 month period, businesses that are still going would be expected to pay a ‘reasonable’ / ‘affordable’ rent (possibly subsidised).

Having interviewed Wayne in 2009 I believe he would fully support such a move as this type of environment is what helped him start his own business over 30yrs ago.

I believe there is no shortage of new / small businesses that would fill that space and create a truly vibrant hub overnight, including the fantastic Made In Newcastle (MIN) collective who are currently looking for new premises after a short spell on Grainger Street. These are exactly the type of people and businesses that would make Newcastle unique to other cities and so should be fully supported by the council.

Central Station / Grainger Town area

Over the years I have come to know the Central Station / Grainger Town area or Newcastle very well. Local enterprise agency PNE Group (formerly known as Project North East) has its Business Support and Workspace teams based on Pink Lane and since June 2011 I have been voluntarily hosting free, weekly, after work events for local developers, designers and tech start-ups at the PostOffice on a Tuesday night.

Newcastle City Council Leader Nick Forbes MP actually came to one of these events just before Christmas where he talked about the Green Paper and encouraged us to have our say (which is what I am doing now)!

As I’m sure you are aware, PNE owns a large block of incubator workspace which stretches up Pink Lane to The Forth pub, along the alleyway to Westgate Road and then back over to include Adamson House. PNE has been running this workspace successfully since the early 80s and has won numerous awards for this work, not to mention all the great businesses that have been based in those buildings over the years. I’d therefore like to suggest that any new developments in that area were in consultation with PNE Director of Workspace, Richard Clark.

On a personal note, I am very keen to support tech start-ups in the city and encouraged ignite100‘Europe’s first £1 million tech accelerator programme’ to base themselves in ‘The Loft’ (the top floor of PNE’s Adamson House building) at the end of last year. This is a great example of co-working and investment which the city should be proud to have on its doorstep.

In fact, this part of Newcastle is very popular with tech start-ups and could easily be marketed as the city’s ‘Tech Quarter’. Please see the crowdsourced Google Map at which shows a high concentration of tech/digital/creative businesses in the city, particularly around the Pink Lane / Central Station area. I started this map just before Christmas as it’s had over 11,000 views so far and is being monitored by national and international tech journalists (including Mike Butcher of TechCrunch) who has acknowledged the city as a vibrant source of tech businesses.

As I’m sure you can tell, I have a lot to say about the city and would dearly love to get involved somehow. Please take my suggestions above into consideration and if you’d like to discuss them further I’d be very happy to meet up.

Paul Lancaster
Founder of Plan Digital
‘Technology Ambassador’ for the CIM North East of England Regional Board
[email protected] | 07734 722716

5 thoughts on “Open letter to Newcastle City Council

  1. Very good of Rob Hamilton (Newcastle City Council) to call me just now (Weds 9th May) in response to my comments above. I appreciate his feedback and invitation to a meeting to discuss various ideas further.

  2. Many big retailers have tried and failed in Monument Mall. In my opinion it is because it is primarily a walk-through between the Monument and Northumberland Street. I think if it did offer something a little different like smaller independents and creative start-ups it might just be more successful and people would be encouraged to come to Monument Mall rather than through it. I hope the council are able to offer rent incentives that would make it possible for this type of small business to move in. I really believe the city as a whole would benefit.

  3. Very interesting! What’s the status of all this now? Any sign of whether they’ll swing towards high end fashion or start ups? Definitely agree that a ‘creative quarter’ would encourage people to walk *to* not through. In Sheffield, there used to be (or perhaps still is, haven’t lived there for a while) a few small, independent shops selling handmade crafts, gifts, etc above Waterstones in Orchard Square. The shops weren’t particularly obvious from street level but the concealed location made shoppers feel they were privy to a ‘hidden gem’, making it the go-to place for unique gifts. Monument Mall could easily emulate this and with such a prime central location would surely see even greater popularity.

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