Hats off to Newcastle Helix

December 4, 2019

The former Newcastle Breweries site, more recently known as Science Central and now Newcastle Helix, is a remarkable city centre redevelopment that will place the city and the wider region firmly on the global map, writes Chris Dobson

With St James’ Boulevard on its east side and Barrack Road on the north side, the busy road network makes it impossible to see what is happening ‘on site’ at Newcastle Helix.

At the time of writing, the construction activity highlights The Lumen building, which is getting nearer to completion day-by-day.

Adjacent to it, The Core, the first building to be completed, dazzles with its yellow exterior.

But to the casual passer-by, the question must be, ‘what is going on?’ The answer, seems to me after an exhaustive site walk, to be something way beyond Salford Quays or maybe Edinburgh’s South Gyle business park, to snatch two possible comparables out of thin air.

Why will Newcastle Helix be such a dramatic development? Well, it is a classic mix of public and private investment but on a mega-scale and what’s more, it’s all happening at once.

My site visit showed The Lumen office building nearing completion, likewise for the District Energy Centre, with enabling works taking place where The Garage and nearby hotel will be built.

It was the same for The Spark and adjacent residential site, which I understand will be a dramatic skyscraper, and a larger residential site was also being prepared.

Combined noise and activity must make this one of the largest projects in the UK and as such it’s a statement of where this city and region is going.
It’s a peep into the future thanks to Newcastle City Council, Newcastle University and Legal & General.

What can we look forward to upon completion? The Lumen will be completed by next February and it will deliver 106,000sq ft of quality office space over seven floors. This Legal & General investment alone makes a statement of confidence in the city, but it is also the design which makes it stand out, as do the crafted designs of this incredible mix of buildings.

The Core and nearby The Key building bring space for knowledge-based, research-led businesses, as well as world-leading engineering solutions into making buildings cheaper to run.

The Biosphere is for life science and innovation, the Urban Sciences building is a ‘living laboratory… for world-class research and education,’ the Frederick Douglass Centre will ‘shape the future for learning’ and the Catalyst is home to the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and also for Data.

This is about transformation at the heart of the city.

As Tony Wordsworth, director of office agency at Avison Young and joint agent with Cushman & Wakefield, says: “It has the most striking new architecture in the city. It is inspiring, unique with every building different, each with a different use; it is outstanding.”

Tony continues: “Apart from the mix of building shapes and colours, it is the long-term impact that this private/public sector project will have on the city and wider region.

“It will retain talent brought forward by the city’s universities. Newcastle Helix is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop world-class businesses in a world-class location.

“It will show the global research and tech sectors what Newcastle has to offer. This could appeal to world-class companies possibly attracting research teams to the city. Inevitably, this will take time, but the challenge now is to sell the city and wider region in a co-ordinated way.”

Greg Davison, partner and head of office agency at Cushman & Wakefield, says Newcastle Helix demonstrates the strength and diversity of Newcastle’s offer and, in particular, that the mixed-use scheme underlines the status of the city as a life science hub and tech centre.

“This is about confidence in the market,” says Greg. “The confidence is clear in the architecture. This is where specification rules and not price.”

Greg agrees the development will assist in retaining graduate talent.

“Newcastle Helix will be a high-quality environment, very modern and a scheme where staff well-being is a priority.

“Newcastle has always attracted talent at university age but struggled to retain graduates.

“Now with such high-quality of buildings, attracting staff will be easier. It will be a better alternative to working in central London, a fact already resonating with occupiers.”

Will Newcastle Helix consolidate the adjacent areas?

“Certainly,” says Greg, pointing to the nearby Gallowgate, Strawberry and the St James’ Metro proposal. The other main city centre locations driving Newcastle’s growth will be East Pilgrim Street and the Stephenson Quarter.”

At a critical time as I write, confidence in the future is crucial and Newcastle Helix, as it emerges on its 24-acre site, demonstrates that confidence.

It is a timely reminder to us all that Newcastle is a major UK city and a great base for business.

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