Last week, we held a public talk and discussion with the Ouseburn Futures group at Protohome to discuss the role of housing in the development of the valley past, present and future.
“Its just empty platitudes” – The Planning System
The starting point was the sintilating world of planning language. More specifically, what policy had been set out by Newcastle City Council for the Valley. To many, it seemed that the language of planning had become tiresome. As one member interjected “its just empty platitudes”. Indeed, there is strong case. On one hand policy decrees that the development should ‘(promote)… the re-use of vacant buildings… (and) sustain and enhance the historic character’. Planning in action then approves the demolition of several key buildings across the Valley. This loss between the plan and the delivery is worth reflecting on. How can we see development in the area whilst retaining important fragments of the past, and with them, the character of the valley? Certainly our trip to Sheffield last month showed how other ex-industrial cities where doing so.
Integration – How do you define the Ouseburn?
We discusseda number of the new developments in the valley, including new student housing. Some of these developments around Sheildfield have failed to promote the integration of their student residents with thesurrounding neighbourhood, design clearly has a part to play, demonstrated by other developments like the Glassworks student housing which have been far more successful in reflecting the topography and industry of the area and integrating themselved into the grain of the valley. The Ouseburn has seen 700-800 new student bedspaces created recently, and +2000 are planned, causing an ongoing point of contention amoungst residents, businesses and artists in the area. Again, this is contrary to the planning policy which promotes mixed-development and family housing.
Some people questioned the inclusion of Sheildfield in the Ouseburn at all (its in the Ouseburn Ward), but the issue of bounderies is not mirky, but critical. A rough and ready mapping exercise showed that what many define as the Ouseburn Valley is different from the political boundaries – which slice the valley in two along the line of the river. Development of the valley clearly needs collaboration across this divide.
“How do we shape our own future”? – Alternative building models Co-build/Mutual-build/Self-build and Affordability
The discussion moved onto housing in the Ouseburn. What has happen in recent years and what is the future likely to bring? Affordabilty is a key issue and some considered that new housing was unaffordable. Indeed, almost like the student housing in Sheildfield, in recent years, all development has been almost exclusively mono-tenure – private rented and private sale.
Some suggested that alternative models should be considered on key sites identified as being difficult for the medium-large scale developers. The recent issues of beaucracracy and withdrawl of the proposals for St James Place where discussed. A predominatly affordable housing project which contained some self-build on the north. In previous weeks, the application was withdrawn from planning due to the impact of noise concerns from local venues. If you has ever read the stories of self-build projects, there are usually some common themes. It is very difficult. There will be alot of obstacles – land, financial, design. It will cost lots of money. You will have to patient. And that perserverance usually wins. Its sort of remarkable that the Ouseburn Trust have persued such a project in the first place, but perhaps without a hell-bent army of to-be residents trying to build their own home it has been difficult. Many people empathised with what they where trying to do and equally frustrated with the planning mechanisms and beauracracy regarding noise that not only inhibited new affordable housing, but fundamentally didn’t reflect the character of the area. Ultimately, there was a concensus that the valley was about a cacophony of music and noise, from the metalic thunder of scrapyard metal, to five or six bands rehersing. This is the attraction for people to move to the area and should not be used to inhibit future development.
Where do we go from here?
Running out of time, the discussion got curtailed. But where do you go from here? The Futures Group has come against opposition to form a Neighbourhood Forum which would give them the authority to draw up a Neighbourhood Plan. Local interest groups and land owners like the Ouseburn Trust have repeatedly come up against obstacles and techicalities that are inhibitating new housing, localism and a planned future for the valley. But then the Ouseburn isn’t just any old neighbourhood. Its contested in every direction. The artists, the businesses, their owners and their self interests, the new resident population and landowners.
Disclaimer – Its worth noting that this discussion certainly doesn’t represent the whole picture and divergence of views over the development of the valley, but attendance at the event (we packed out Protohome) suggests that there is a wealth of interest, energy and enthusiasm to shape the future of the area for the people who care about it.