Business improvement district company NE1 Ltd always hoped that the creation of a ‘Central Gateway’ to Newcastle City Centre would in turn create jobs and entice investors into the city.
Yet when the original application was submitted for Regional Growth Fund money, the North East and the rest of the UK was still ensnared by the recession, a time when optimism in both the UK and North East wasn’t exactly high.
The station facelift was given the green light back in 2011 – and four years on, work on the £20m Central Station redevelopment has realised all of NE1 Ltd’s predictions and those of their partners, and then some.
Additional private sector investment stands at £10.78m – a conservative calculation – which has led to the creation of 173 jobs – 50 more than NE1 Ltd hoped for.
Newcastle now has a fitting gateway to the city centre that has made the station area more impressive and accessible to visitors.
Together with work to upgrade the general infrastructure, including the improvement of traffic layouts and pavements, we have seen the relocation of ticket barriers, and the arrival of new station retailers including Boots and Paperchase.
More significant is the multi-million pound investment that the £20m project has enticed to the city, the regeneration triggering a series of new projects while also encouraging existing businesses to invest and upgrade.
Since the redevelopment started, Zapatista on Grainger Street has opened, creating new jobs.
And Baron House’s office space has been converted for leisure use, being transformed into the Hampton by Hilton Newcastle, the first Hampton property in Newcastle and the 14th in the UK.
The project brought 60-plus jobs to the area, while also becoming the latest in a string of new hotel developments to take shape in the city centre, following on from opening of the Tune Hotel and soon-to-open Crowne Plaza Hotel and Motel One, further evidence of growing economic confidence in the property market.
Meanwhile, the former O’Neills bar opposite the station has been converted into a Nicolson’s – both brands being owned by Mitchells and Butlers.
The parent firm has put a lot of money into the rebrand, renaming it The Victoria Comet, a homage to the building’s past in the 1800s as two pubs – the Victoria on the left and The Comet on the right, which merged to become The Victoria and Comet Hotel.
Further proof of the development chain reaction sparked by the NE1-led project can be seen close by, most notably through the construction of Select Property Group’s student accommodation building on the site of the former eyesores Westgate House and Norwich House.
Thompsons of Prudhoe have now completed demolition work, paving the way for Carillion to proceed with the 259-bed block.
More than half of the units have been sold off-plan before construction specialists had moved onto the site, to outside investors responding to Savills’ Student Housing report 2014 identifying Newcastle as one of the best investment opportunities in the UK, naming it as a top tier investment.
Lettings have also increased in the area, as commercial property agents will contest.
Richard Clark, PNE’s director of Workspace, said: “We are delighted that the work is now complete on the Central Station both inside and out.
“For the last 18 months it has felt like we were living and working on a building site with messy and very disruptive building works.
“Now that the work is complete, we are delighted with the results and the newly revamped Grade 1 listed building and its frontage give the right impression for visitors to the city.
“It is no coincidence that since the work has finished we have had our best quarter for two years.
“In the last three months alone, we have let out more space in our five buildings on Pink Lane, Westgate Road around the Central Station than in the whole of the previous year.
“It is wonderful to be back to normal in a new improved environment and we look forward to the beautiful area around the station being well managed and maintained to provide that all important welcome to the city and the wider North East region.”
Commercial property consultancy Group Lambert Smith Hampton, which has a number of business interests around the station, has also noticed a marked improvement in lettings since the redevelopment.
Among its property instructions are the retail units on the ground floor of the Thistle Hotel directly opposite the station.
James Moss, principal surveyor, said: “There has been a noticeable increase in letting activity in and around the station as the work neared completion.
“Clearly during the building works it was difficult to let prominent sites that were directly affected but as the work was coming to an end and people could see the transformation we have been delighted with the take up.
“What’s more, we’ve noticed a change in the type of retail operator opening in these premises with a more high-end offering interested in the sites, a clear sign that the area has improved in terms of quality.
“We recently let space within Gunner House, the office block diagonally in front of the station, to the international visa business, VFS Global.
“The company selected the site precisely for its proximity to the newly revamped station and its easy access into and out of the city.
“Businesses in and around the area are more confident of making an investment in their businesses and properties when they know the council and organisations like NE1 are committed to supporting and investing in the area.
He added: “The impact of the Central Station redevelopment will encourage other business interests to invest and improve the wider fortunes of the city.”