Leisure driving footfall in Newcastle city centre

Newcastle city centre continues to attract strong visitor numbers, helped by growth in the leisure industry says Stephen Patterson of NE1

Stephen Patterson
Stephen Patterson

The past year has been a strong one for Newcastle city centre. While high streets around the country have continued to experience a sustained decline in visitor numbers, Newcastle has consistently bucked the national trend and the city has again seen increased footfall in 2014 against a UK average of -0.8%

Alive after Five, launched in October 2010, has been the most significant change to the city centre since the introduction of Sunday trading and has resulted in an additional 7.9 million additional visitors in the early evening since launch. Capitalising on these additional visitors, the city has witnessed continued investment from the retail sector, with perhaps the strongest growth seen in the licensed trade sector.

One of the most positive aspects of this leisure-driven transformation has been the mix of both home-grown talent and investment, coupled with high-end, national operators. The city now enjoys a healthy balance of both local independents that add a unique flavour to the city-centre offer, coupled with a number of national brands that people expect to see in a modern, cosmopolitan European city.

This strong leisure sector growth has delivered jobs, investment and reinvigorated areas of the city that had previously been in decline. One of the first areas of the city to benefit was Newcastle’s Quayside, with Babucho and Oak opening on Dean Street, joined by the likes of Redhouse, Bridge Tavern, Hop & Cleaver and Kenny Atkinson’s House of Tides among others. A consistent theme, common to all these businesses, has been a focus on food and a pursuit of delivering a high-quality customer experience. While this change has been happening gradually over the past few years, 2014 hit a peak with a whole host of new names and operators.

Recent additions to the city restaurant and bar scene include many new formats and specialist offerings that add something different to the city’s combined offer, transforming properties and areas that had been previously neglected or underused.

In the last quarter of the year, new bar and restaurant launches have dominated the North East business news.

In November the city received the welcome news that Tokyo Industries was building on the successful launch of its Stein Bier Keller in York by bringing the unique drinking and dining formula to Newcastle. The format has been extremely successful in York and the team is confident that Newcastle will be just as successful. The cellars of the Royal Buildings (previously City Vaults) in the Bigg Market is the site selected for the new Bier Keller which is expected to create 50 jobs when it opens this week.

Hot on the heels of the Tokyo Industries development, another major player in the market, the Ladhar Leisure announced a phased £2.5m investment in the city centre over the next 15 years. This investment comes after the group’s launch of the Hop and Clever and The Redhouse on the Quayside, which already represent more than £1m of investment in this area.

Now the group has ambitious plans for a hidden area just off Grey Street, called White Hart Yard. The site will transform 30,000sq ft of property between Grey Street and the Cloth Market. When complete, the development will will encompass five floors, nine different zones, is expected to create more than 100 jobs and will greatly improve links between Grey Street, High Bridge and the Bigg Market.

These latest developments are fantastic news for the city and an excellent way to end a busy and vibrant year. For NE1, one of the priorities for 2015 is to ensure that the public realm surrounding these newly-emerging leisure zones is well maintained and adequately reflects the quality and investment of the neighbouring businesses.

The Bigg Market is one of the key locations in the city that NE1 has earmarked for improvement and modernisation over the next five years. We hope to match investment which the likes of Tokyo Industries are making in new premises with a major project that will transform the Bigg Market, improving the public realm and creating a wonderful link between the newly-redeveloped Central Station and the heart of the city.

The city as a whole is benefiting enormously from the leisure sector growth and development; in addition to the introduction of exciting new venues, the investment is helping to drive up standards and improve the city’s aesthetic appeal, as well as creating jobs and encouraging further investment, all of which contribute to cementing the city’s role as the region’s capital.

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