Plans to spend £3.5m of public money on a controversial development that could scupper a future expansion of St James’ Park have been shelved.
It emerged last week that bosses at the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) were planning to help cover a “viability gap” in the contentious transformation of Strawberry Place with new flats, offices, and a hotel. The construction plans have been a source of fierce debate for years, with Newcastle United fans worrying that it could block any possible extension of the Gallowgate End and even force the football club to one day move out of its iconic city centre home.
News that the combined authority was set to invest almost £3.5m from its Brownfield Housing Fund to help finally get the delayed development moving prompted a new wave of opposition, including from Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah. But politicians instead decided on Tuesday afternoon to defer the funding approval – and the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands the idea is likely to be dropped.
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At a meeting of the NTCA’s cabinet at Newcastle Civic Centre, North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll claimed there were “economic ramifications that don’t stack up” on the site, which was sold by former Magpies owner Mike Ashley. The Labour mayor later told the LDRS: “There are a number of issues about the economic viability of this, should we be subsidising the nature of the project, the housing.
"I know there is a big public story about Newcastle United and the possibility to expand – I don’t know whether this would actually impinge on that or not anyway, that is a question for architects and engineers. But we have decided that we are not going to support the scheme, on its own merits, with public money.”
The move will come as a welcome relief to NUFC supporters hoping for more positive news at St James' Park on transfer deadline day and came just a few hours before the second leg of the League Cup semi-final against Southampton.
Minutes before the meeting began, Ms Onwurah had written to Mr Driscoll urging him to oppose the scheme – saying it was not appropriate “to use public money for a project which large parts of the public are against”. The city Labour MP has been a long-time opponent of the Strawberry Place redevelopment and spoke against it when the scheme was granted planning approval by Newcastle City Council in 2019.
She said on Tuesday: “My views on the Strawberry Place development have not changed since I put my initial objection to the council in 2019. Many constituents have raised with me their concerns at the use of public funds for this particular development, not least that it would threaten any possible expansion of St James' Park. So I've written to the mayor and asked him to oppose any plans to use public money on this development. Newcastle needs housing and business opportunities, but there are many brownfield sites which would not have such an impact on the city or the skyline. They should be the target of investment."
While the plans were granted approval in 2019, work has stalled since then. Previous developer High Street Group fell into administration and the project is now led by investment group Reditum Capital.
Ahead of Tuesday’s decision, an NTCA report had claimed that the development would support more than 1,700 construction jobs and put £670m into the regional economy within 10 years. It was said that the project, which includes 328 flats, an office block, and a 213-bedroom hotel, had a funding gap “caused by site remediation and high abnormal costs”.
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