Q: How has the landscape in Newcastle changed over the last 12 months due to COVID-19?
A: The pandemic has had a significant impact on the city and its economy as it has the rest of the country. Obviously, many more people have lost their jobs and businesses have taken a huge hit with some collapsing and others really struggling with the effects of lockdown restrictions – restaurants and bars have been particularly hit.
In retailing, INTU, the owners of Eldon Square went into administration and many well-known brands have collapsed with Debenhams and the Arcadia Group (Top Man, Wallis) the most notable. So, more people will be claiming Universal Credit and we will see many more empty units around the city centre as a result of the pandemic, but Newcastle is a great city, with a strong identity and brand and we are confident it will adapt to the changing landscape and in time get back on its feet.
Retailing will still be a major part of the city centre as we diversify into offering a wider range of experiences.
Q: How are you now planning for 2021 and laying the foundations for a successful post-pandemic future – will you be looking to work with central Government for necessary support and funding to achieve your goals?
A: The council cannot achieve things on its own. We have long recognised this and so work closely with our partners, the universities and college, the hospitals trust, the voluntary and community sector and of course the private sector.
Our strategy is the same as it has always been – to continue to support the growth of the city with new housing, new investment and new job opportunities. Our focus is to protect the most vulnerable in the city while providing high quality services and investing in our infrastructure to improve connectivity and make the city attractive to visitors and companies.
Despite the challenges, construction work continues which underlines confidence. Work is underway on a new office block on Pilgrim Street creating a new gateway to the city. Plans have been approved for up 1,100 new homes at West Quayside as part of a mixed-use development, and work is expected next year on Central Station, opening it up and providing a better passenger experience.
As well as the pandemic, we will also be coming to terms with the effects of Brexit on the economy and will lobby Government hard for fairer funding not just on our own but through the North of Tyne Combined Authority so we can secure funding to equip people with the skills they need to do the green jobs of the future as we work towards being net zero by 2030.
Q: Despite the ongoing COVID-19 disruption, a number of key construction projects made significant progress in 2020, from The Lumen on Newcastle Helix and Hadrian’s Tower on St James Boulevard, to the appointment of Ryder as architects for the Bank House regeneration scheme on Pilgrim Street. How will you be generating interest in these projects in 2021 and ensuring that there is strong take up as and when they reach completion?
A: The Lumen is now almost fully let. Hadrian’s Tower and Bank House are both privately funded developments that will be marketed by their owners. The council is working with Taras Properties, who are developing parts of Pilgrim Street which, for the council, is a strategic employment site.
It is the role of the council to promote strategic sites to prospective developers in a bid to attract capital investment into the city. We do this in a number of ways. For example, attendance at the international property exhibition MIPIM over several years helped successfully attract significant private sector investment into the city.
Invest Newcastle, our inward investment agency also works to secure capital investment, attract new businesses and create jobs across a range of strategically important and growing sectors including life sciences, tech, digital, creative professional services and manufacturing.