City regeneration – with a twist

November 2, 2018

When the Scottish & Newcastle Tyne Brewery closed in 2005, the 24-acre site was snapped up by Newcastle Council, One North East and Newcastle University with the ambition of creating an innovation zone that combined tech and sciencebusinesses, world-class research and modern residential living. Thirteen years later and the development – recently rebranded Newcastle Helix – has weathered challenging times but work is now progressing apace. Tom Warburton, director of place at Newcastle Council, talks to Alison Cowie about the once-in-a-generation opportunity to redevelop a quarter of a city and reveals who’s set to benefit from its transformation

When and why did Newcastle City Council support the idea of what was then Newcastle Science Central?
The City Council, the Regional DevelopmentAgency [ONE North East] and NewcastleUniversity took the visionary decision to buy the site in 2005 when the Scottish & Newcastle brewery closed. It was a brave move at the time but represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a new quarter of a city. Soon after, the idea to create an ‘innovation zone’ for the city came about has been pursued ever since. The 24-acre site has since been cleared, 40,000 tonnes of coal extracted,planning permission secured, and finance sourced. It has been a huge team effort to get itthis far by everyone involved.

The site is currently a partnership between the council, Newcastle University and Legal & General (L&G). Why was L&G brought inand what have been the main benefits andchallenges of this “unique collaboration”?
Those at the council [which bought One NorthEast’s share when it was closed] and the university felt as though we had driven the site forward as much as we could and we needed to bring a private sector partner with substantial resources to invest. We met Nigel Wilson, the chief executive of L&G, who immediately got what we were trying to achieve and wanted to be a part of it.

The main challenge was how to structure thedeal so that we could bring in a finance partnerrather than the traditional way the public sector would have done it – to bring in a development partner. It took us a while to work out how to do that within the public procurement, state aid and best value rules that we need to work under.

L&G’s initial investment of £65m will delivermore than 200,000 sq ft of office space. They are underway constructing the first privatesector building – The Lumen.

The benefit is that we now have a ‘blue chip’strategic partner who has almost a £1000 billion under management. L&G completely getour vision for the site and has the financial andtechnical expertise to help us achieve it.

I’m pleased to say several other cities are now asking our advice on ‘how to do a Newcastle’.

What was the vision for the project at the beginning?
We wanted to build a mixed-used new quarter of the city that helps make people’s lives better – not only in Newcastle but around the world. This meant building the city’s economy around Newcastle University’s world-class expertise in data science, healthy ageing and low-carbon technology/energy systems. All these issues are challenges around the world – so developing solutions in Newcastle could put us at the forefront of the global answer to these issues.

Has this vison changed?
The vision for the site has not changed a lot – what has changed is the pace of delivery. We weathered a recession, which did slow progress, but we subsequently won the opportunity to host the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) and the National Innovation Centre of Ageing (NICA). Also on site is the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration. This has driven forward the developments you see around Science Square.

The Council has funded, along with significantfunding through the current European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the North
East Local Growth Fund (LGF) programmes, the Biosphere Lab, and the L&G deal is nowsignificantly accelerating the commercialdevelopment on site with two 100,000sq ftoffice buildings – The Lumen and The Spark,now through planning and funded. We are also developing plans for the retail and leisure elements of the site and working on a hotel deal.

In addition, Engie has also become our energy partner and is building a combined heating, cooling and power plant on site, which will result in the whole site being 30 percent more carbon efficient. And as technologyevolves, we may be able to improve on this.

We’re now in the position where almost all the plots on the front of the site are built,being built or are financed and in planning.That’s around 10 buildings built or funded. It represents one of the largest construction sites in the North of England.

That said, I must emphasise that this site isabout building a scientific, technological and asocial community that helps drive the site and city forward. It’s got to be a great place to live, work and visit – visionary, inclusive, inspiring – driving the city forward and placing us on the national and international stage.

The development was recently renamed Newcastle Helix. Why the rebrand?
The old brand – Newcastle Science Central – had served us well during the early years but with L&G coming on board, and the pace of delivery substantially accelerating, it was time for a rethink. When we were looking into it, it became quite apparent the name Newcastle Science Central didn’t chime with all audiences. The reference to ‘science’ was seen by some to make the site inaccessible, particularly for the residential market and for some in the local community who were keen to see it as an asset for the city as a whole.

The new brand – Newcastle Helix – is more inclusive with communities and potential residents on the site. It not only boldly signals our new ambitions and the new phase ofdevelopments, it will firmly launch it as a leadinginternational innovation quarter, it also maintains some reference to science and the structure of DNA.

The project has delivered The Core and the Urban Sciences Building. What has been the impact of these buildings so far?
There are almost 270 people working regularlyfrom The Core and 25 SMEs in the building [as at early October 2018]. The building filled withina few months of opening and we now have a waiting list. We have recorded 136 new jobs created and 40 jobs safeguarded to date – so many of these jobs are new to the city.

Another key benefit of The Core building is the event space being available. This brings events to the city and Newcastle Helix, raisingthe profile of the site across all sectors. To date,The Core has hosted 365 events, bringing 21,567 people to the site.

The opening of the Urban Sciences Building has also added to the site and has moved key elements of the university’s research expertise onto the site.

The Lumen, The Biosphere, the National Innovation Centre (housing the Innovation Centre for Ageing and the Innovation Centre for Data) and the Teaching and Learning Centre are now under construction. What are the projected impacts of these?
The Biosphere will provide 90,000sq ft of lab space for ambitious companies with the life sciences sector and innovation, research and development. It will also have a conferencing facility for around 80 people, which is due to open at the end of November 2018.

The Learning and Teaching Centre, due to open in autumn 2019, is a 78,300sq ft teaching facility with a stunning auditorium for 750
and a range of seminar rooms over severalfloors. It will be a key component of NewcastleUniversity’s teaching in the School of Computing and the Newcastle University Business School and will also help attract major conferences to the city.

Meanwhile, the National Innovation Centre will host both the National Innovation Centre
for Ageing and the National Innovation Centre for Data, together with the National Institute for Health Research Innovation Observatory. These centres will allow the university to link academic talent with industry and the public sector to help develop skills needed to solve real world problems.

How will the project affect jobs in the region?
The whole aim of the project is to create employment opportunities for residents of Newcastle – up to 4000 – but the impact will be wider, with the spending power of those employed on site creating jobs across the city and wider region.

This will provide jobs for people across thatskills spectrum – from PhD to ‘shop floor’ jobs. Obviously, on site there will be teaching at graduate and post graduate levels, but the employment opportunities will be wider than just the ‘high skills’ jobs.

The development also has plans for 450 homes. Why was it important to combine residential homes in Newcastle Helix?
From the start, our aim has been to build a new quarter of the city where people can live, visit, eat out and enjoy. If it was just a university research area or a commercial district, it would risk being deserted in the evenings. The new homes and new community are, therefore, central to achieving the vision. It is important to us that the residential side of the development is modern, sustainable, inclusive, digitally-enabled, and adds to the site and city as a whole. We’re currently working through how best to achieve this.

How will the project impact the North East community as a whole?
By driving Newcastle’s economy, we aim to be at the heart of the North East’s economy too – creating new employment opportunities for residents across the region. By placing the university and its research and innovation expertise at the heart of the new economy – and addressing worldwide challenges such as healthy ageing, data science and low-carbon living – we aim to make life better for people across the North East.

Do you think Brexit will impact the project going forward?
Brexit will affect many aspects of life but it is not something we can influence directly at theNewcastle level right now.

We’re aware that many businesses are delaying investment decisions until there is greater clarity about the terms of Brexit and how this will impact individual companies. However, Newcastle Helix is a long-term project, and based on the current strength of enquiries to date and the size of the waiting list for The Core,we are confident in the site’s future and thefuture of the individual buildings on site.

Newcastle Helix

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