BANKING giant Barclays’ plans to open a flagship branch in Newcastle city centre have been put on hold after an application was rejected by the council’s planning committee.
Barclays submitted proposals that would have seen a £3m injection to transform the vacant former Wallis/Evans unit in the Monument Mall, creating 50 jobs and boosting footfall to the high street with some 350,000 customers expected every year.
Similar flagship branches have already opened in Leeds, Glasgow and Manchester, leaving Newcastle as the only remaining key location in the North without a new branch.
But the city council’s planning committee opposed the change of use application to transfer it from retail to financial services in a bid to ensure the ongoing redevelopment of Monument Mall remains focused on retailers.
Concerns were also raised over the possibility that the change of use of the unit could leave it open to being used for other businesses such as betting shops later down the line.
The decision to reject the investment has been met with disappointment from the North East business community.
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, said: “I was quite familiar with the plans because I met with Barclays a few months ago and they took me through them. I understand the council’s position but I wouldn’t say I agree with it.
“When I saw the plans they looked to be a very impressive addition to Northumberland Street. Oxford Street in London has a few banks on and that fits in well.”
She added: “The investment in jobs is more welcome than ever at this time for families in Newcastle.
“We should be encouraging banks to invest at this time, given the reputation of banks at the moment, as it’s investment in our communities. Retailers are facing a very challenging trading environment and it will take a while before we get that level of investment again.”
Jonathan Walker, from the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “We understand that the council is keen for that redevelopment to be retail-focused but given the current economic climate and some of the difficulties a number of high street retailers are facing, it is disappointing to see.”
Barclays, which has been searching for a suitable location for a flagship branch for several years, planned to relocate two of its existing three sites in the city centre to the new premises, with its Percy Street and Grainger Street branches closing.
It would retain its existing first floor branch near the Haymarket.
Andy Wright, Barclays network regional director, said: “The branch network is hugely important to Barclays and we remain committed to providing Newcastle with a modern branch that is appropriate for a key regional centre.
“Of course it is disappointing that our plans were rejected and we will continue to search for suitable premises which provide sufficient room for us to deliver the service our customers deserve. Wherever this may be, this will be significant investment for Newcastle with new job opportunities for local people.”
A spokesman for the city council said it is happy to work with Barclays to discuss a solution which meets their needs for the flagship branch.
He said: “Northumberland Street is the region’s premier shopping street playing a critical role in the success and prosperity of the city and the regional economy and for this reason all applications are looked at carefully.
“This area of the city is performing well, is vibrant, well occupied and is an internationally renowned destination for shopping. Current market confidence is demonstrated by major investment by BHS and Primark and the work on the remodelling of Monument Mall.
“The unit that Barclays was interested in is one of the most desirable retail locations in the region. We would be very keen to see Barclays locate its flagship store in the city centre but in a location that would strengthen the centre and support the retail offer.”
We should be encouraging banks to invest as it’s investment in our communities