Unveiled in 1969, the Newgate Shopping Centre’s heyday – if ever there was one – was probably the early ‘70s, when glamorous names like ‘Malcolm Macdonald for the Exclusive Man’ pulled in fashion-conscious shoppers.
Over the years, though, the Newgate was usurped by Eldon Square (opened in 1976), and left marooned in an off-pitch location as Newcastle’s retail heart shifted away from Grainger Town.
When £100m redevelopment plans were unveiled in 2009 – after years of cosmetic improvements had come to naught – a new life for the Newgate seemed near. Like many schemes elsewhere, however, the UK’s lack of economic recovery saw those plans stall, despite permission being granted.
In the interim, the demolition-threatened Newgate Centre has become increasingly empty and forlorn. Even the old Woolworths shopfront remains inside, though the fascia lettering, at least, has found a new home in the Discovery Museum.
Six years on, the latest redevelopment proposal from owners McAleer and Rushe is a demonstration both of economic green shoots and of how the commercial property market has changed.
Where the 2009 plans envisaged 568 hotel beds, the current proposal – in the light of other developers moving into the city with new hotels – is for a more modest 269 beds.
Alongside, echoing what’s been happening everywhere from Gateshead to Shieldfield, the plans now include accommodation for 575 students. If swanky apartment blocks were the must-do development in pre-recession Britain, then student housing certainly seems to be developers’ current favourite – but clearly the demand must be there.
The Newgate Centre site, let’s face it, will never be a major retail draw again. So, if McAleer and Rushe can combine a smaller amount of street-facing retail space with accommodation for students who will, in turn, use those shops, it’s hard to argue with the logic.
We just need to cross our fingers that the plans get off the drawing board this time.
Written by Graham Soult