Chronicle Live – 6th October 2019
The Helix, Stephenson Quarter and Pilgrim Street developments in Newcastle have been beset by problems, but promise big changes
Between them, the developments pledge to bring around 10,000 jobs and more than £600m in investment – though one has been much delayed, one is currently on hold and another is yet to start. The developments – the Stephenson Quarter, behind Central Station, the Helix site close to St James’ Park and plans for a range of new buildings along Pilgrim Street – have brought cranes to the city centre but also shown the difficulty of completing major developments at a time of economic uncertainty. All have been years in the planning and have faced obstacles and problems along the way.
The Helix site was, until 2018, called Science Central and its development can be traced back to 2004, when then Chancellor Gordon Brown announced funding for ‘science cities’ around the country.
A partnership of regional development agency One NorthEast, Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University took over the 24-acre former Newcastle Breweries site, but it would be another 10 years before the first building opened on site. The abolition of One NorthEast in 2010 left it to the council and university to take forward the project, though a new partner was brought on board in 2016 when insurance and financial services group Legal and General invested £65m into the scheme.
Helix is now into the second phase of its development, with completed buildings including The Core, which is home to 25 knowledge-based companies, the university’s Urban Sciences Building and Frederick Douglass Centre, plus the Biosphere, a high-spec base for life science business and innovation, providing laboratory and office space for SMEs in the sector. The Lumen building, which will contain office space for companies that want to collaborate with scientists and academics on the site, is due to be completed early next year, while another office block, the Spark, is expected in 2021.
More developments for the university – including homes for the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing and the National Innovation Centre for Data – are being built and an energy centre serving the site will be completed this year. More commercial spaces will come on stream in future years along with a multi-storey carpark, residential developments and public spaces. It is expected that the development will finally be completed in 2024, 20 years after it was first planned. By then, it is expected there will be around 4,000 jobs at Helix, alongside hundreds of students and researchers.
The Stephenson Quarter
Like Helix, the Stephenson Quarter development was first envisaged around the start of the century, and its progress was held back by the financial crash of 2008-9. The site behind Central Station was once the site of the Robert Stephenson & Co. Locomotive Works, but by that time much of it was lying empty and redundant. The scheme kicked into life when developers Clouston Group teamed up with Newcastle City Council to build a Crowne Plaza Hotel, a car park and a University Technical College, as well as bringing historic buildings on the site back to life as the Boiler Shop events space.
Future phases of the scheme envisaged an ‘innovation district’ where start-up digital businesses would inspire the next generation through a mix up of business hubs, a public square and luxury flats. But last year the scheme came to a halt when the council ended its contract with Clouston, saying that the company had failed to make agreed payments to it. A search for a new developer was launched at the Mipim event – the world’s leading real estate convention in Cannes earlier this year.
A revised masterplan has been produced for the site which broadly mirrors the original plans, though it is possible a new developer could make changes. The council is not setting any timescale on the development, which ultimately aims to bring 2,000 jobs to the city (around half have been created so far).
Perhaps the most central, and therefore the most visible, of the potential developments in the city centre is around Pilgrim Street, where a large collection of buildings has been bought up over the last decade by the billionaire Reuben brothers.
Much of the site – including the former Bank of England building, the old Odeon site and the Worswick Street bus station – has lain dormant for decades. But after much delay, demolition of disused buildings has been followed by plans for an office block and associated developments on the site of the former Bank of England building, a boutique hotel in the former fire station and, most recently, a £200m luxury leisure, shopping and living scheme at the top end of Pilgrim Street.
With planning permission given in September for Bank House – a 14-storey 120,000 sqft Grade A landmark office building, which it is hoped will then be joined by further, surrounding office buildings with the potential to support 4,000 jobs – there are hopes that developments on Pilgrim Street could inject more than £300m of investment into the city over the next 10 years.
Coun Ged Bell, cabinet member for employment and culture at Newcastle City Council welcomed the developments in the city centre. He said: “Newcastle is experiencing unprecedented levels of development at the moment which really underlines investor confidence in our city. The Helix is creating thousands of high quality jobs of the future while Stephenson Quarter is bringing back into use a huge swathe of the city that was largely derelict. The 14-storey office block granted permission on lower Pilgrim Street will herald the start of the rebirth of East Pilgrim Street – arguably the biggest city centre regeneration scheme in the North. Of course this is great news for job creation and local people who are getting opportunities to get on in life. Job creation is the building block of a strong economy and by working with partners and the private sector we are growing the city in a time of national uncertainty which proves our approach is the right one.”