Retail centre offers regeneration lessons

A study tour of Eldon Square in Newcastle offered valuable insights into planning successful regeneration projects, writes Fiona Brereton.

Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners senior associate director Anthony Greally led young planners on a tour of Eldon Square, a scheme that reconnects the retail core of Newcastle. Starting close to the town wall, he looked at the influence of historic settlement patterns on the formation of retail development.

Eldon Square was the largest indoor shopping centre in the UK when it opened in 1976. However, changes in transport patterns and retail requirements resulted in a fragmented city centre and a decline in footfall in the historic area of the city in later years.

The group learnt how modernisation and redevelopment have improved the quality of the retail offer. In addition to investigating the local shopping environment, they considered pedestrian permeability and viability in the city centre.

Constructed at a cost of £170 million, three schemes were initiated in 2002 when Newcastle City Council applied for £11 million of central government funding. In the first instance, this allowed for the redevelopment and relocation of the underground bus concourse. In place of the former depot on the site, a modern bus station and a surface-level shopping mall were built.

Unusually, these two areas are supervised by a joint management company, and materials of a high quality have been used throughout to create a seamless transition between the retail and bus waiting areas. The result has been a reduction in anti-social behaviour and an attractive and usable space that welcomes six million people per year.

Refurbishment of the Georgian Old Eldon Square followed with remodelling of the shopping centre to offer retail units, restaurants and pavement cafes, thus improving the previous blank facade. The third phase saw a further 38,000m2 redevelopment of part of the shopping centre and adjoining car park.

The centre has been built out to the medieval alignment of Newgate Street to create an improved pedestrian environment. Greally explained that securing Debenhams as a retail anchor at an early stage attracted other shops despite the difficult economic climate.

A joint compulsory purchase order and stopping-up inquiry was required for the scheme to progress. A voluntary environmental impact assessment was carried out due to the size of the scheme and its proximity to a number of listed buildings and two conservation areas.

In recognition of its urban contribution, the Eldon Square redevelopment has been shortlisted both for the RTPI Planning Awards 2009 and RICS North East Renaissance Awards 2009.

Fiona Brereton is a graduate planner at Drivers Jonas LLP.

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