NEWCASTLE’s shopping centre is to be home to one of the largest branches of Next in the country.
The retailer is to move into a flagship store as part of changes to Eldon Square which will see the Leisure centre revamped in exchange for handing over floor space.
Next, one of the UK’s largest clothes stores, will move from its current Northumberland Street branch into the new store as part of plans to transform the city’s shopping centre.
An £8m redevelopment is being discussion by councillors and store managers in the hopes of opening the new shop in spring 2011.
It is thought Eldon Square could not offer enough room for Next to house a flagship store and so the leisure centre will be asked to give up some space.
Newcastle Council is expected to contribute around £3.3m to the scheme, money it will find from borrowing, and repay using rental income from the new store.
In return for losing some space Eldon Leisure will be handed cash for modernisation.
As part of the shake-up the leisure centre will lose six squash courts but will have four state-of-the-art courts rebuilt. Store bosses say two of the current courts are not in general use.
It is part of ongoing efforts to revive the city’s “retail offer”. Already, a new Eldon Square extension is set to see high street giant Debenhams open a four-storey branch this month.
About 800 people will be employed in the new mall, which will house stores for retailers including New Look, Topshop, Republic, Superdry, Schuh, Oasis, All Saints, River Island and Guess.
David Slater, executive director of environment and regeneration at Newcastle Council said: “This proposed improvement to Eldon Square demonstrates the city council’s commitment to the business and retail sector.
“It will further improve Newcastle’s retail offer and enhance the city’s status as the shopping capital of the region.”
The leisure centre improvements include turning a storeroom into a new studio with new flooring, lighting and air conditioning.
There are also proposals to refurbish the floor in the main sports hall and use matting to overlay the carpet in part of the bowls hall so classes can be carried out at other times.
Council officers claim this “will greatly improve flexibility in these areas”. They say wall surfaces in the leisure centre are “crumbling in patches and the floors are lifting due to years of wear and tear”.
It is thought that without the additional investment the centre would have to close down within years.
A report before councillors predicts some fitness classes may need to be restricted in numbers but Eldon Leisure do not intend to cancel any.
A spokeswoman for Next said the store was not in a position to confirm or deny any changes in Newcastle.
Talks are ongoing over the fate of the Northumberland Street branch, but it is thought another high street chain is preparing to move in.