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Build & Sustainability

Creating a blueprint for neighbourhood renewal in Newcastle’s East End

The way we shop and the way we use our high streets is changing.

However, while the number of chain stories continued to shrink last year, there were some silver linings for British high streets, including the first increase of independent retailers for five years.

Wales witnessed the highest number of net openings, followed by the North East, which saw a 1.1 per cent increase in independents.

However, our region also had the UK’s highest shop vacancy rate at 20.9 per cent, and the second lowest level of shop redevelopment.

The North of Tyne Combined Authority’s Town and High Street Innovation Programme is aiming to change the shop vacancy rate, with a two-year programme, run in conjunction with Newcastle City Council, which will focus on improving high streets on Chillingham Road, Heaton Road, Heaton Park Road, Shields Road and part of Welbeck Road.

The council put forward the Inner East area for investment due to its opportunities – high streets that support independent retailers and have a range of community assets – and its challenges, which include places with high vacancy rates and lower footfall, both having been exacerbated by the pandemic.

All of the streets are within walking distance of each other, and the aim is to improve connectivity between the high streets and diversifying the offer.

It is believed the plans could include providing support for local traders, creating new shops and new community hubs for people in vacant units, developing greener and more attractive public spaces for the people who live, work and visit there, building new cycling and walking routes, as well as developing a long-term investment plan for the area.

However, the exact nature of the work will be shaped by local people telling Newcastle City Council what they want to see in their local high street.

It will be delivered against a backdrop of capacity challenges, though.

Over the past two decades, there has been a fall of around 450,000 full-time employees in local government from 2.02 million people in 2000, to 1.56 million in 2021.

Of this, only a third of the jobs lost can be explained by teachers transferring from local authority-maintained schools to academies.

A survey by not-for-profit social enterprise Public Practice showed 79 per cent of local authorities said attracting skilled staff is their largest recruitment issue.

Public Practice created a local authority resourcing and skills survey to help understand the skills gaps and the impact a lack of resources has on council officers and their teams across England.

Enter Public Practice associate Noor Jan-Mohamed.

Noor is an architect with five years’ experience, who will be playing a key role in the high street regeneration project after joining Newcastle City Council as a senior planning and project officer on a 12-month placement. 

For Noor [pictured, above], a native south Londoner, working in Newcastle’s East End feels like returning home.

During her five years at Newcastle University, Noor, and her colleague Becky Wise, designed and built a new café and shop for the arts and mental health charity Chilli Studios, just a mile away from Chillingham Road, which she will now be working to help regenerate.

She says: “Newcastle is where I feel at home.

“It feels great to be returning and seeing all the regeneration that has taken place.

“It is a city close to my heart, and I’m really excited about what is to come as we work on a great scheme to regenerate Newcastle’s East End.”

Noor will combine her role at the council with a one-day a week tutorial role at Newcastle University.

She is motivated by how architecture is influenced by society and how this has often resulted in the voices of the most marginalised in society being left unheard or underrepresented.

She says: “I’m most looking forward to speaking to people about what they want to see in Newcastle’s East End.

“These plans will make the most difference to the lives of local people, so it is most important to hear from them.

“I’m very fond of Newcastle, it’s a place which offers a better quality of life and will give me an opportunity to work on a brilliant project where I can live in the local community and walk to work.”

Before returning to Newcastle. Noor worked in a RIBA chartered architectural practice across a broad range of projects.

However, the impact of planning upon communities and the public realm was a real driving force for her.

Working on a community housing development in North London, in conjunction with a local authority, meant she saw a larger opportunity to shape communities and influence regeneration by working in the public sector.

However, having never worked in the public sector before, Noor does not feel she would have been able to work in local authority regeneration without the help of Public Practice.

She says: “I’m really grateful to Public Practice for helping me find a role which is ideal for me in a city that’s very special to me.

“I’m looking forward to playing my part in making streets in the East End better places to live, work and visit.”

Michelle Percy, Newcastle City Council’s director of place, adds: “Noor will help us develop a blueprint for an area-based community model of neighbourhood renewal, which is locally led and can be rolled out to other areas in Newcastle when further funding becomes available.”