Urban Tourism: Regeneration Newcastle City

Newcastle city has in the recent years grown to become one of the most vibrant cities in the UK with great shopping malls and cultural attractions, elegant Georgian architecture, first-class museums and galleries, art, music, sports and nightlife among many other features (Emms 2008). It has earned its place as one of the capitals of north, attracting an increasing number of visitors.
Of course, this was not the case in the past. If we are to recall that during the 1970s, there was an increase in unemployment following the collapse of the traditional heavy industries such as ship building, steel manufacture and coal mining (Robinson 1997). This dealt a devastating blow on the city as growth stagnated for many years. The decline in the manufacturing industry left the city with little hope for the future.
In fact, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, only a few people would have considered taking a vacation or visiting the city for a trip (Robinson 1997). But at the close of the 20th century, regeneration of the city slowly followed with increased investments. Since then, there has been an increasing number of people who visit Newcastle city to gaze upon its cultural attractions, iconic waterfronts, festivals and events, and the unique mix of modern and historic architecture (Emms 2008).
In view of the above, this paper analyzes how and why Newcastle has grown to become a city that is now. This includes conducting a brief overview of the history of the city and examining the reasons for its decline. The paper also critically discusses the nature of the city’s revival and highlights the experiences that it now offers. Finally, the paper concludes by highlighting whether the regeneration has been sustainable in its current form. In order to understand how and why Newcastle has grown to become that it is currently, it would be important to conduct a brief overview of the history of the city and examine the reasons that led to its decline.
A brief history of Newcastle
Newcastle has in the past enjoyed prosperity in the UK as a centre of shipbuilding, coal mining and heavy industry. In fact, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, this region was named as ‘the workshop of the world’ (Park 2009). During that time, the biggest source of coal could be found in Northumberland and Durham (Park 2009). However, after World War II, a crisis occurred in the region that led to the collapse of the manufacturing economy.
Following the end of Second World War, there was a collapse of two of the most important industries in the region: coal and shipbuilding (Park 2009). Newcastle lost prosperity in shipbuilding and the UK subsequently lost its position as a strong supplier of ships to the rest of the world. Countries such as Sweden and Japan emerged as strong shipbuilders and challenged UK’s strong position in the shipbuilding industry (Moffat & Rosie 2005). Between 1960 and 1965, the shipbuilding industry in the UK felt by 17% whereas the Japanese shipbuilding industry experienced a growth of over 200% (Vall 2001: 59).
There was also a collapse of the coal industry during the post-war period even though its heyday lasted a little longer unlike the shipbuilding industry (Park 2009). Nonetheless many pits were closed down in the 1960s as a result of exhaustion and other economic reasons. The growth of other alternatives such as oil and gas led to a decrease in the demand for coal, a situation that led to the collapse of the coal industry and increased unemployment in the region (Park 2009). With the manufacturing industry that brought prosperity to the region collapsing, this led to a decline in the economy.
Since the 1970s, Newcastle has had to struggle with the declining situation of the traditional heavy industries. With the collapse of its manufacturing economy, it was clear that the traditional heavy industries in the region would no longer contribute to the success of Newcastle. After Newcastle lost its industrial base, it had to struggle for decades before its regeneration. Newcastle’s regeneration occurred in the late 20th century with the transformation of the area into a commercial, leisure and residential hub (Emms 2008).
This regeneration transformed the city whilst retaining its rich historic fabric (EU report 2007). The city has today a rich historic fabric with approximately 2000 listed buildings, 1 historic Battlefield, 14 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 11 designated Conservation Areas and 7 Registered Parks and Gardens (EU report 2007). Newcastle city is also home to one of UK’s 21st century social housing developments, the Byker Estate (EU 2007).
How Newcastle City was renewed
Regeneration of Grainger Town
As a part of a regeneration programme of Newcastle city, the Grainger Town project was established in 1997 with the aim of addressing the declining growth in the city and reversing the trend (EU 2007). Led by Grainger Town partnership, this ambitious ˆ178.5m project was part of the holistic approach towards ensuring urban regeneration. This project combined ˆ59.5m of public funding, grant aids from government departments, and a small amount from English Heritage, and Newcastle City Council (EU 2007).
Back in the days, Grainger Town was an area that attracted a number of tourists but in the early 1990s, the economic base of this once prosperous area of the city declined significantly (Howe 2013). According to a detailed audit and assessment conducted in 1992, the area exhibited many symptoms of urban decay including the vacant floorspace, low standards of public realm, decreasing residential population, a high percentage of buildings at risk and a general lack of investor and occupier confidence (EU 2007).
Based on the findings obtained from the audit, Newcastle City Council came together with English Heritage to develop a programme of conservation-led property development. This programme helped in tackling the problem of buildings at risk and halted the spiral of decline by utilizing the rich architectural assets in the area (EU report 2007). In 1996, both parties felt that the area could not take care of itself and as such it had to be managed. Whilst Grainger town was largely acknowledged as possessing the potential to revive economic growth in the city, the main issue was how Grainger town was going to be managed to ensure regeneration in a way that is sustainable.
In 1996, consultants were commissioned to carry out an ‘in-depth’ analysis of the area and to produce a regeneration strategy for Grainger Town (EU 2007). This included conducting a detailed building audit in the area. They found that the area represented a complex urban system and as such, regeneration had to be done in a ‘holistic’ manner that would ensure respect to the fine grain nature. They thus agreed on the Grainger Town project driven by a ‘civic vision’ and based on 7 inter-related regeneration themes:
Business and enterprise development
Social housing development
Quality of environment – improvements in major public realm along with installation of public art and creative lighting schemes (EU 2007)
Non-housing property development
Creation of jobs and increasing access to opportunities
Arts, culture and tourism: organizing of promotional events, arts and culture and fostering tourism (EU 2007).
Increasing investment in ‘heritage’
This project turned out to be a huge success. However, this was not without challenges. Problems such as poor perception of the area and issues of multiple property ownership held back investment and slowed the process of regeneration (Tallon 2009). But these problems were addressed through promotion and marketing which reversed the perceptions of the area and encouraged investors and property developers to increase their stake in Grainger Town. Thus, whilst the project faced some hurdles, it turned out to be a success in the long run.
Grainger Town is today the historic heart of Newcastle city covering approximately 36 hectares and comprising of a mix of buildings of architectural and historical importance (Tallon 2009). Its takes its name from the classical streets of Tyneside conceived and built by Richard Grainger during the 1830s (Smith 2006). Also included in the area are the Mediaeval Dominican Friary of the 13th century, Victorian Buildings and remnants of the old Town Walls (EU report 2007).
Regeneration of Newcastle Quayside.
Sir Terry Farrell, a British architect, also appears to have played a dominant role in the regeneration of Newcastle quayside. The quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne which was once a busy commercial dockside has in the recent years become run-down and redeveloped to provide an environment for modern arts, music and culture (Emms 2008). Along with the new housing developments, the Quayside has become a top ten attraction in Newcastle.
The regeneration of the quayside following Terry Farrells master plan of 1991 has resulted in the acclaimed Millennium Bridge, Baltic art gallery, and development of a Regional Music Centre (Emms 2008). As a result of the regeneration, Newcastle Quayside has become a major focus for leisure with concerts, music, art and ship events conducted on the Quayside.
Cultural regeneration
Cultural regeneration also appears to have played a role in attaining the City’s new status. In 2000, Newcastle councils formed a partnership with Gateshead in order to pursue a shared ambition of ensuring cultural regeneration with the aim of promoting the area as a tourist destination (SERIO 2010). More recently, a strong partnership was established that involves the private, public and third sectors with the aim of pushing the cultural agenda forward despite, have lost the European Capital of Cultural bid (SERIO 2010). In 2006, Newcastle launched the Cultural Leadership Programme and rolled it out region-wide (SERIO 2010). Through such cultural programmes, the city has been able to reach to people of all spectrums and experienced an increase in visitors.
However, whether cultural developments have led to the regeneration of urban cities is a question that has been debated by many authors. Could it be true that cultural regeneration in the city has changed the image of Newcastle and increased tourism in the areaThis new trend that involves a combination of culture and urban regeneration is not only done in Newcastle, but occurs across the globe with many national governments adopting culture-led urban regeneration approach (Gibson & Stevenson 2004).
Whilst this approach has gained increasing importance over the past few years, there seems to be paucity in research with regard to the impact of culture on urban development. It is easy to conclude that cultural developments help increase tourism activity in cities, yet it is hard to identify quantitative or qualitative evidence indicating the direct impacts of cultural developments on tourism as the nature of visitors’ activities and consumption is often complex (Park 2009). As argued by Bianchini (1994), culture can be used by politicians as a ‘carnival mask’ for concealing social problems.
A number of other authors including Mcguigan (1996) and Bailey et al (2004) have questioned whether culture can indeed contribute to urban development. Bailey et al (2004) argues that the impact of culture-led regeneration on the economy is uncertain and that culture-led regeneration programmes have been based on assumptions rather than concrete evidence. In a similar vein, Miles (2005) pose a question about the evidence used by city councils in deciding on cultural investment.
Of importance to point out is that infrastructural development has been part of the regeneration and rebranding of Newcastle city. As such, it is hard to identify whether the trend of increasing visitors relates specifically to cultural and heritage development or infrastructural development. With that said, could culture-led urban regeneration have contributed to the transformation of the city into leisure, commercial and residential hubThis remains a question that needs further documentation.
Nonetheless, over the past two decades, the city of Newcastle has had co-ordinated strategies for investment in arts and culture (EU report 2007). This has been based on a shared belief that investment in arts and culture would help the city recover from its social and economic problems. And indeed, there have been an increasing number of visitors who have toured the area over the last 10 years (Robinson 2003).
Economic impacts of regeneration
Development of transport infrastructure
The growing number of tourist visitors has contributed positively to the growth of local transport infrastructure. Although the city initially had a well established railway system (Metro) in the 1970s and a local airport, the growth in the number of visitors, the growth of the vibrant city centre and population has acted as a catalyst for growth and development of transport infrastructure (Robinson 2003).
In fact, Newcastle International Airport is one of Britain’s fastest growing regional airports. In 2007 alone, the air passenger figures were estimated at around 5.7 million passengers (Robinson 2003). Forecasts also predict that by 2016, the airport passenger figure could rise up to a high of 9.5 million passengers (Robinson 2003). When easyJet started its operations in Newcastle in 2003, it heralded the start of the low-cost phenomenon in the North East and led to an increase in airport passenger figures.
Further, the plans to develop a new 4* luxury hotel at the airport which were unveiled in 2006 and is currently underway will no doubt increase the number of visitors (Robinson 2003). In addition, significant investment has been made to the cruise ships in the port of Tyne in Newcastle. In between 2004 and 2007, there was an increase in the number of cruise ships by 162.5%. A further ?5million investment on cruise ships has been made in the new Northumbria Quay
Business tourism
Newcastle has also seen a significant growth in business tourism in the past 10 years particularly in the conventions and meetings market (PCG 2009). Not only is this important in terms of economic benefit gained through conferences, but research has also shown that over 40% of this business visitors’ return to the same destination for leisure visits (PCG 2009). This growth in Business tourism has resulted due to improved perception of Newcastle as exciting conference destination, and due to increasing number of conference facilities and hotels as well as improvement in travel links to North East England (PCG 2009).
If we are to recall, in 2002, Newcastle did not even appear among the top destinations as revealed by the UK Conference Market Survey. But three years down the line, it emerged 6th in the top destinations used by corporate markets (Robinson 2003). The conference industry contributes significantly to the economy of North East England. According to estimates, around?100million is collected every year through conference and meetings in this region (Robinson 2003).
Job creation
The regeneration process has resulted in the growth of hospitality sector which subsequently has created more jobs for the local communities. As a result of regeneration of Newcastle city, leisure and business tourism has increased in the area driving development in hotel and transport infrastructure and increasing the number of job opportunities available in the hospitality industry (John 2009).
Social impacts of regeneration
Increased cohesion
The cultural programme in Newcastle has also brought together people and created a strong sense of cohesion. This programme has brought together people of Newcastle to develop events and festivals that shine a light on their cultural activities and beautiful natural iconography (Robinson 2003). Key to successful cohesion has been the involvement of the young people in the regeneration process (City council report 2012). The city council has implemented a programme that ensures the participation and engagement of young people in the regeneration process. The cultural sector has also been challenged by the government to support the cohesion agenda through offering programmes that support interculturalism and through establishing a team of skilled staff that co-ordinate cohesion activity (City council report 2012).
Improved social status of the locals
Further the local community have benefited from Newcastle New Deal for Communities (NDC), an ambitious ?55 million programme that was established in 2000 to transform the inner West End (City council report 2012). This programme has successfully implemented a range of schemes including enhancing provision of childcare, improving housing and reducing crime rate. The success of the programme has been achieved through involvement of the local residents in decision making, investment in community capacity-building and by working effectively with other partners to address issues from a strategic approach (City council report 2012). Other important social impacts of the regeneration include a change in the image and reputation of Newcastle City, a change in residents’ perception of the area and an increase in social capital (Robinson 2003).
Disadvantages of regeneration
The regeneration process, however, is not without its drawbacks. Whilst commendable, the urban renewal strategy which has been implemented in Newcastle is likely to disadvantage its own growth and development. Recently, Lake Macquarie Council raised concerns that Newcastle’s ongoing urban renewal strategy could stunt growth of the rest of the region (Cronshaw 2013). In March this year, the council made a submission seeking assurances that the $200 million plan for the renewal of the city will not impact on the availability of funds in other areas of the region (Cronshaw 2013).
Also, the proposal to limit business expansion outside of the CBD is likely to stifle growth in other areas of the region (Cronshaw 2013). By focusing solely on the CBD, there is a higher possibility that growth in other areas of the region could come to a standstill. The state and federal government should ensure that a focus on regeneration of the Newcastle city is not going to be at the expense of growth in other parts of the region (Cronshaw 2013).
A further drawback to the regeneration has been an increase in gas emissions which is likely to contribute to global warming. The concentration of development in the inner-city and the increase in population migrating to the city for employment, business activities and leisure will no doubt that increase the emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (Bulkeley & Betsil 2005). But these emissions to the environment are significantly lower than that of an industrial base. It remains to be seen whether this concentration of development will have significant environment impacts in practice.
What the future holds?
Despite these drawbacks, the transformation of Newcastle City has been commendable. Newcastle city has rebranded itself from a rundown manufacturing based city to a vibrant city with elegant architecture, great cultural attractions and rich historic fabric (Park 2009). However, it remains questionable whether the regeneration is going to be sustainable.
More recently, the city council unveiled its plans to withdraw all of its grants that it normally provides to 11 organizations in the city, raising doubts about the sustainability of tourism in the area (Higgins 2013). Such cuts will likely to put Newcastle’s cultural renaissance at risk. Clark-Jenkins, the regional director of Arts Council England, in fact points out that whilst recognizing the need to reduce the budget of the city council, the move to cut investments in arts will put the city’s cultural renaissance at risk (Higgins 2013).
Against the view that of a lack of evidence base linking culture-led regeneration with urban development, it should be noted that sustained investment in culture has in the past decade made Newcastle a centre of culture and home to the most treasured and exciting galleries, museums and theatres. Should the council cut investments in culture by 100%, all of this will be put at risk.
It is clear from the above that regeneration of Newcastle has been attributable to culture-led regeneration programmes, increased investment in heritage, and regeneration of Grainger Town and Newcastle Quayside. The regeneration of the city has no doubt significantly contributed to the economy in terms of development of transport infrastructure, business tourism, and job creation. Further, the cultural programme in Newcastle has increased cohesion, improved health and well being of local residents and changed the image and reputation of Newcastle city.
But this has not been without drawbacks. Concerns have been raised about the likelihood of the renewal strategy to stunt growth of the rest of the region. The proposal to limit business expansion outside of the CBD and the focus on regeneration of the city at the expense of other areas is likely to disadvantage growth and development. Further, the concentration of developments in the inner-city may have implications on the environment.
Also, considering that sustained investment in culture had made Newcastle a centre of culture and home to the most treasured and exciting galleries, museums and theatres; the move to cut investments in arts is likely to stifle future growth. Nonetheless, the regeneration is sustainable in its current form.
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