Council slammed over 'hypocritical' £8.9m loan for new car park as city faces pollution crisis

By Daniel Holland

Council bosses stand accused of hypocrisy over loans of almost £9m to build a new car park in Newcastle city centre – at a time when leaders are discouraging car journeys amid a pollution crisis.

Newcastle City Council chiefs have come under fire after it emerged that the local authority lent millions of pounds to build a multi-storey car park at the Helix business and science park on the former Scottish & Newcastle brewery site.

The cash-strapped council defended the loan as “an investment” based on the premise that it would generate a profit, with the money being repaid with interest, while also saying that the six-storey site will be geared towards supporting electric cars.

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But critics have slammed the move, which comes as city leaders are pressing ahead with other major transformation plans designed to slash emissions from road traffic in the city – such as the proposed pedestrianisation of Grey Street and Blackett Street.

Outer west councillor Jason Smith, who made concerns about the loan public in a question lodged for this week’s full council meeting, accused the city’s ruling Labour group of “hypocrisy” and claimed they “bend over backwards for vested interests”.

The Lemington councillor, leader of the Newcastle Independents party, asked why the council would build a new car park while also planning to axe the long-standing ‘Alive After Five’ offer of free evening parking in the city centre in an effort to cut pollution.

He said: "How can Labour councillors say ordinary people parking for free outside peak hours are doing something terrible while parking for scientists at their workplace that makes money for the council is good?

"Local people are fed up with the hypocrisy from Labour councillors who only seem to bother about the climate emergency when they want to take things away from ordinary people but bend over backwards for vested interests.”

A council spokesperson confirmed that an initial £7.6m loan to Newcastle Science Central Management LLP was approved in 2019 for the development of ‘The Garage’, which will have more than 540 spaces, EV charging points, and a bike storage hub.

The cost of the construction, expected to be completed this March, is said to have ballooned since then – leaving the council to approve a new agreement bringing the loan up to £8.9m.

Taymar Pitman, a Green Party campaigner in the West End of Newcastle, branded the funding of a major new car park “absolutely hypocritical of a council that has declared a climate emergency” and said the money could have been put towards park and ride schemes or cycling infrastructure.

She said: "It is not helping congestion, all it is doing is generating money for the city council.

"They need to be spending that money on safe and sustainable means of transport for everybody, not just the lucky few with cars."

Coun Ged Bell at the Newcastle Helix (Jonathon Manning)

Labour’s cabinet member for development, neighbourhoods and transport labelled the criticism “financially illiterate”, saying: “The money is a loan that will generate income. It’s an investment. We have a huge financial gap to cover because of government cuts.”

Coun Ged Bell called the decision on Alive After Five a “completely different” matter that Coun Smith “totally misunderstands or deliberately confuses”, while also praising scientific advances from the Helix development that could make it “an exemplar for electric vehicle technology in the future”.

He said: “A lot of this car park is going to be centred around electric vehicles, a rapid charging station with charging points and encouraging people to swap to electric vehicles instead. The Greens and Independents are therefore attacking the incentivising of electric vehicles.

“The car park is to provide parking for a big new development to avoid people parking in residential areas or the city centre. It keeps cars out of those areas.”

It is not the first time that the council has come under fire for a big money loan in recent years.

The authority has been criticised for lending more than £30m to prop up the Crowne Plaza Hotel on the Stephenson Quarter development since 2013.

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