I came up to Newcastle last week and glowed with pleasure as I passed through the newly refurbished station and walked on to my destination.
Since I moved south a year ago I probably have averaged one trip a month back to Newcastle and/or Hexham and it has been marvellous to see the station being transformed; and particularly pleasant for me as I felt I – and the Journal – were catalysts for this change.
Soon after I left Nexus I was invited by the Journal to write an occasional column, which I did for around four years. One of those articles – in 2009 – centred on the station as a major gateway to the region and particularly to Newcastle.
I was scathing about it, calling the main concourse “a disgrace”, condemning the ugly rusting booking office, the clutter of tacky kiosks, the grime and dirt of the portico and the pedestrian unfriendly traffic pouring down Neville Street and the lack of any semblance of a “welcome” to the city.
With the encouragement of David Clouston, the developer of the Stephenson Quarter and a board member of the then newly formed Business Improvement district called NE1, I was asked to present my critique and my proposals to their Board. NE1, with the support of the city council, soon decided to make the upgrading of the station and its surrounds their main development project; and the rest as they say is history…
I have looked again at my original article and the presentation slides from 2009 and most, but not all, of the recommendations have been implemented – and implemented well.
There is still, of course, a lot of work going on; I don`t know what the final road/traffic plan is but it seems evident that car traffic outside the station (and the noise, pollution and aggravation to the pedestrian )will be much lower than before.
For the newly arrived by train the concourse is massively improved! With modern well designed facilities replacing the awful booking office and kiosks – it is much more open and has an airier feel to it – I imagine significantly closer to what the original architect, John Dobson, envisaged. Because a lot of clutter has been removed you tend to see the station more as a whole.
The crowning glory is the portico; what a transformation – clean, bright, protected from the elements where passengers can now sip a coffee in relative warmth where before taxis would be belching diesel fumes for the benefit of those who were waiting in the cold for a lift.
The pedestrian signage is clear, modern and attractive – a far cry from the old rusting finger posts that pointed to facilities that had been moved seven years previously and displayed maps of the city centre that still showed Gallowgate bus station!
Leaving the portico, there is now a clear wide pedestrian route straight to the Monument and city centre; and I assume there will be something similar the other end of the portico towards Pink Lane, St James’ Park and Chinatown.
Some disappointments, although I appreciate some remedies may be in train I’m unaware of. In the station I think it is a pity there are no spot lights pointing up at night to Dobson’s marvellous arched roofs; all the lights in the roofs seem to point down.
There is still no “Welcome”. I had proposed in the portico (I guess instead of one of the coffee booths) to have a glass fronted welcome kiosk facing the departing passengers/visitors.
Staffed by Newcastle/Gateshead Initiative, it would not only welcome visitors but give information as to how to reach the sites or hotel – walking and by public transport, what was on that day and the next day locally, etc.
(There seems to be an opportunity on the reverse of the line of departure boards by the ticket barriers to display a large “Welcome to Newcastle/ Gateshead sign”.)
Close to my own heart I didn’t see any “Where to Board a Bus” information or pedestrian maps displayed. The wall panels between the concourse and the portico through which virtually every departing passenger will walk has a number of panels extolling East Coast trains and a road map of Central Newcastle (!) but no, in my view, appropriate maps or information for arriving visitors.
But I don’t mean to be critical. It is too early to judge what is going on around the station but certainly a big “Well Done!” to NE1, Network Rail, Newcastle Council and the other partners in this huge and complex project for the great work done so far.
- Mike Parker was Director General of Nexus from 1994-2006.