We need to tell the world that Newcastle is a contender

Architect Neil Taylor on the great job done at Monument Mall - and why Northumberland Street must be next

The new generation Monument Mall, Newcastle Upon Tyne
The new generation Monument Mall, Newcastle Upon Tyne

It comes as no surprise to me or anyone else living in Newcastle that Grey Street has again been named the UK’s favourite street. Campaigning group, Create Streets recently announced the results of its survey where the voting public resoundingly agreed that the street was the finest in the UK – beating off stiff competition from London’s Regent Street and Marylebone High Street and Hope Street in Liverpool to secure 20% of the vote.

The vote demonstrates that Grey Street and the surrounding area is back on track and is receiving the accolades it deserves, but it wasn’t that long ago that the area lacked purpose and didn’t fulfil the vision of its original creator, John Dobson. On Blackett Street, looking down onto Grey Street, a beacon of all that was failing was the increasingly redundant Monument Mall shopping centre, which had seen a steady decline in tenants and footfall over a ten-year period.

Fast forward to the tail end of the global recession and Hammerson, the developers, made the brave and bold decision to buy the Monument Mall site and invest multi millions in its redevelopment. Hammerson were delighted by the positive attitude and great reception which they received from the city council. This was a significant part of the reason Hammerson decided to invest in Newcastle.

At the time, their investment and choice of Newcastle as a destination for such a scheme was ambitious given the UK’s economic fortunes, but they were determined to set high standards and to carve a new future for the site and the retail offering in the area.

We were chosen to work with them on the project and were impressed by their vision and willingness to take calculated risks, not least by making a huge investment to create a high quality offer they hoped would attract equally high calibre brands and businesses. Their risk paid off and the Monument Mall development is more than proving its worth and rightfully so. The redesign of the mall also gave the street back to the city and altered how people use the area.

The success of this site demonstrates to the rest of the world how great Newcastle is and tells brands and businesses that Newcastle is open for business.

Word of mouth has proved a fantastic way of attracting niche brands and retailers to Newcastle. Hammerson were able to attract Hugo Boss, Jack Wills, Boodles, The White Company, Jamie Oliver and others into long leases with these aspirational brands, happy that they were buying into a site that offered a prestigious address on an all-important ‘street’.

Grainger Town
Grainger Town

Aspirational brands want ‘streets’, they want presence and visible brand identity which can be lost, or smothered in a mall environment. The new Monument Mall gave them the environment they craved and it is paying dividends.

The success of Monument Mall has demonstrated how, if developers commit to an area and create a quality product/offer, exciting shops will help to create attractive places for people. It also gives us hope that the same rejuvenation can happen in other areas of the city – with the next challenge being Northumberland Street.

We need to strengthen the arteries and veins feeding into Northumberland Street, rejuvenating the likes of Saville Row, Northumberland Road and Ridley Place to bring the whole area back to life.

As the city’s retail core has shifted with the redevelopment and extension of Eldon Square, Northumberland Street’s raison d’etre has changed – we can’t pretend that it will ever be the same again but what we can do is reanimate the area and think of new concepts and ideas to restore the heart of the street and give it a new identity.

This re-branding has to start with fundamentals - we need to create a place that people want to be in and businesses will follow suit. It’s all about creating a sense of place through a clearly defined role. Northumberland Street has lost its role, so we need to create reasons to entice people back.

Internationally there are some great examples of this. In Barcelona for instance, the famous Las Ramblas is as well-known for the activities, markets and entertainment that happen along the 1.2 km long street, as for the shops and museums that line its route.

We’re currently working with NE1 Ltd and Newcastle City Council to explore ways of breathing new life into Northumberland Street and the surrounding area to define its new role and link the street to other parts of the city. We’ve been so impressed with NE1’s energy, their ‘can do’ attitude, and their enthusiasm and determination which appear boundless, driven by the desire and working with the city, to ensure that Newcastle and the North East maintains its rightful place among other leading European cities.

Grey Street, Newcastle city centre
Grey Street, Newcastle city centre

We need their positivity and on-going effort to not only deliver results, but to prevent Newcastle losing out to other UK and European cities when it comes to investment and jobs. We need to tell the world that Newcastle is a contender because, around the UK, cities like Leeds and Manchester are bustling and continue to attract huge levels of investment. In its efforts to find a new focus for Northumberland Street, NE1 is working to lift ambitions and aspirations and be more inventive and creative in its plans for the city’s future to ensure that any changes deliver a better, more improved city.

In the same way as Hammerson aimed high with Monument Mall, we need the rest of the city to follow suit and promote ambition and quality in its public realm. The city has fantastic assets and we need to exploit them.

Neil Taylor is a partner of Faulkner Brown architects and supporter of NE1 Ltd

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