A £20m train station upgrade is a key economic priority for Newcastle, despite city-wide cuts to services, a senior councillor has said.
As plans were unveiled to the public for the first time yesterday , Newcastle City Council’s deputy cabinet member for skills, business and enterprise, Michael Johnson, said it would be money well spent to enhance business and retail opportunities.
Coun Johnson said: “It’s been a tough time for financial spending, but we’re confident that we need to invest in the city because we need an uplift in business rates and employment and to improve revenue streams for the city.
“With Central Station we can improve the economic prospects for Newcastle in the future.”
Plans for the Grade-I listed building include glazing in the station’s porch area where taxis currently drop of passengers, and instead filling the space with shops.
The £8.6m cost of interior improvements will be paid for by the Department for Transport’s Station Commercial Project Facility Fund, with work carried out by Network Rail and the East Coast mainline.
Council money, as well as a £4.9m grant from the Regional Growth Fund, will also pay for dramatic improvements to the area in front of the station, including a direct pedestrian crossing on Neville Street and lower Grainger Street.
A two-way cycle track at the west end of Neville Street, south of St Mary’s Cathedral, will be installed and the flow of traffic at the front of the station will also be altered to ease congestion.
Coun Johnson admitted long delays to the project had been less than ideal but said that the long consultation periods had been essential in securing the project.
Work was due to start in summer 2012, but financial hold-ups, including a nine-month delay on the £4.9m from the Government’s Growth Fund, mean the project won’t be completed until 2014.
Coun Johnson said: “It’s important that we get the development right, and we have taken extensive consultation with businesses and interested parties.
“All the work may have been scheduled before now, but we’re confident we now have the right offer in place.”
Joint investor and regeneration company NE1 Ltd believes an upgrade could also help elevate the city’s reputation internationally.
Sean Bullick, chief executive of NE1 Ltd said: “We’ve looked to Sheffield and London King’s Cross for inspiration but, as with everything we do, we look to make sure that we are a leading European regional capital.
“With this project we are endeavouring to make sure that we are up there with the competition in Europe.
“I think the station doesn’t look that great itself, and this project will transform it and immediate areas like the Stephenson Quarter, so this is the first of a number of developments.”