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The Newcastle of old is on the way out, but what is coming next, asks Mark Smulian? ...
The Newcastle of old is on the way out, but what is coming next, asks Mark Smulian?

It is 30 years since the still-popular Whatever happened to the Likely Lads? first appeared on television, and in that time its Tyneside setting has changed beyond recognition.

Then, it was still a city of shipbuilding and heavy engineering. Now, those industries have all but vanished and Newcastle's economic future is represented by aspiring executive Bob Ferris rather than his comedy colleague, manual worker Terry Collier.

The problem this transition gave Newcastle City Council is that while builders wanted to construct greenfield suburban estates for the likes of Bob, the city had swathes of the kind of terraces and council houses where he and Terry grew up that had become derelict.

People with jobs and even a little spare money fled to the suburbs from the city's declining core, where local shops and services progressively collapsed as their economic base vanished.

The problems in the city's West End and, to a lesser extent, East End, were on a scale that made it difficult to do anything effective by piecemeal redevelopment. Some argued that with their economic purpose gone and their populations leaving, it would be misguided to pour good money after bad into these areas.

The council decided it had to do something radical to restore its inner city as a stable and sustainable community. Its solution was certainly controversial as it involved mass demolition of the private terraced housing and council estates. The idea was to allow a fresh start, and to avoid the mistakes made in the slum clearance programmes 50 years ago when communities were torn apart.

But its Going For Growth strategy provoked uproar with its proposals for large-scale demolition.

Scotswood councillor Rob Higgins (Lab) remembers: 'There was a lot of anger. It was clear we had to work with the community.'

Industrial collapse had changed the community from one where 90% of residents were in work to one where 90% were on benefits, he says, and the council wanted to break this cycle of deprivation.

The answer lay in a mixed community, which would attract people who could afford to choose where they lived to an area which has many advantages, including proximity to the city centre, access to the A1 and views over the Tyne.

Mr Higgins says: 'People in what had become quite a deprived area feared that we wanted to move them out and build homes for rich people, but what we are trying to create is a mixed neighbourhood. It is a real challenge.'

New homes for sale will be accompanied by housing association properties, shopping centres, schools and business parks.

Shona Alexander manages Going For Growth, overseeing a £500m programme in the West End, and about half as much in the East End.

Although the original demolition plans were scaled back, she explains: 'There has been substantial demolition with 1,000 houses gone. The change is quite dramatic.'

Ms Alexander defends the demolition programme because 'before it we could not get investment in the area, both Housing Corporation and house builders told us they would not touch it because services had collapsed and it needed new schools and shopping to be viable'.

Earlier projects using the City Challenge and single regeneration budget had barely scratched the surface of the West End and Ms Alexander admits the council 'looked at grassing it all over and letting it go, but decided it did not want a scorched earth policy with nothing left'.

She explains: 'In the early days developers just saw boarded up houses and shops, now there is an area of prime development land and stable housing around it.'

Local residents had to go through 'a very painful process', in some case voting for the demolition of their own homes, she recalls, but points out that some of those who were hostile to the plans in 2000 now work with the council to plan the area's future.

What of the East End? This was never as controversial because the demolition was more limited. Even so thi s was the subject of a petition from residents to Ms Alexander only last month.

'It is quite difficult to get across the idea of what will be going there and to establish the benefits,' she says.

Social housing group Places For People is leading the regeneration as the council's partner, focusing on the redevelopment at Walker riverside, a neighbourhood centre with shopping and community services, mixed tenure development at Pottery Bank and new homes on demolition sites on the Cambrian estate.

Ms Alexander says: 'In the East End the community had remained fairly stable even though its original industries have gone.

'People say that family members who have moved away would return if there was better quality housing.'

It might even tempt Bob Ferris back from his estate of suburban executive homes.

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