Contributed by Dr Angela Drakakis-Smith
As more building sites come on stream within Newcastle and although there appears to be no rapid uptake of these sites, it is important to be aware of any planning applications made for these sites to the Newcastle Borough Council (NBC) especially those in and on the edge of the town centre. Although much official information is being placed on the NBC website (although not always it seems) it is easy to overlook this The Former Georgia Pacific site has now been redeveloped and the small hotel and supermarket are open for business. The old Pomona Inn (a listed building) and the former Social Services building at the Ryecroft (and on the same block) are up for sale. It is thus likely that this whole block will be redeveloped in the near future. There is talk of a Hilton hotel next to the Pomona Inn which threatens to be higher than its neighbour, the Premier Lodge.
The NBC have produced a town centre redevelopment plan. For whatever reason (and I don’t think residents have ever been told why) this was rejected by the government. This plan tended to state in vague terms what the NBC didn’t want rather than what it did want in strong terms. Whilst this might signal to developers an ‘open mind’ for the town centre and a welcome to all comers, it is likely that developers would prefer clear guidelines in order to avoid the waste of time and money making unsuitable applications which would be likely to fail. Attempting to direct developers was the division of the Plan of the town centre into different zones – eg business, leisure, shopping etc.. – although the heights suggested for any of the prospective development appeared problematic.
With regard to the Town Centre Conservation Area Plan it would appear that the NBC are pushing the Georgian flavour of the town to centre stage, having removed many of the significant Victorian buildings during the last big regeneration of 1960s and 1970s. However, most UK towns have passed through a plethora of historical eras and building styles so that erasing one historical period in favour of another is not always useful unless there is a strong vision of what is important and significant architecturally to that town. This issue needs to be given wide discussion and beyond the environs of a small clique. Buildings are not taken down and rebuilt overnight. Usually it is a long process often kept under wraps until the end when it is too late to change anything except minor details. Open discussion is vital to the success of any plan.
Even as we speak the town centre redevelopment is being discussed and has been being discussed over the past year or two. It has yet to come to public consultation. Nevertheless, the market stalls are being moved from the bottom of High Street to make way for a taxi rank and despite the traders’ protests, which until raised at the town LAP and at the Civic Society, appeared to be falling on deaf ears. This reshuffle was taking place based on a Market Trader Report . Readers of this report might have had greater faith in what was being said if only the report had spoken about Newcastle-under-Lyme instead of Newcastle-upon- Lyme for the first 50 pages!
And so we stand on the edge of new major developments which could transform the town centre and its environs. The ethos of the ‘big society’ being pushed by the present government suggests that people should have a say in what goes on in the borough and particularly within the town centre. This should not be the sole privilege of a business-focussed minority or ‘friends’ of the NBC. There are many avenues already in existence for this to happen – the Civic Society, LAPs and Residents Associations’ being but a few. Until this happens and residents are fully involved and engaged in the civic processes, this borough council has some way to go before it gets into the swing of the 21st Century. We live in hope!