Councillors approve £11 million for high streets and cultural hubs

Three North East high streets are set for a £6m boost in a bid to weather the ‘perfect storm’ of the cost of living crisis and the pandemic.

By Daniel Holland
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 4:33 pm
Jamie Driscoll.
Jamie Driscoll.

It is hoped that a new funding package signed off by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) this week will create more than 200 jobs, with one town in each of Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland to benefit from the investment.

Bosses say the cash will be used to help local traders, bring empty buildings back into use, and to develop long-term plans to boost footfall and turn around the fortunes of struggling areas.

North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “The cost of living crisis will have potentially devastating consequences for our high streets, already reeling from the pandemic.

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“Families are spending over a thousand pounds a year more to buy the same food and energy. That means millions less spent in our shops, pubs, theatres, and restaurants.

“Our high streets need serious help. It means thinking beyond cosmetic improvements like hanging baskets and pedestrian walkways.

“Our new High Street Challenge scheme will help to support our town centres to weather this perfect storm and transform them for the better, for the future.”

£1.9m will be given to the local councils in each area to hand out, though it has not been decided which high streets specifically will benefit.

Projects could include the permanent repurposing of vacant buildings or unused spaces, the creation of new parks, and support for pop-ups and events.

Alongside that scheme NTCA leaders also signed off on a further £5m investment on Tuesday to establish three new “Cultural and Creative Zones” across the region, offering affordable workspaces and business support.

They will be in North Shields town centre, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and Clayton Street in Newcastle city centre, with an ambition to create a “supportive and attractive environment” that can act as a hub for creative and cultural businesses to grow.

An NTCA report states that the North Shields cultural quarter will be located in and around Howard Street and Saville Street and will focus mainly on music, performance, and visual arts.

The report adds:“The heart of the Cultural Quarter will be the cluster of buildings at the crossroads of Howard Street and Saville Street, including The Exchange, the Globe Gallery, the Business Centre (Saville Exchange), and the North Shields Customer First Centre.

“Providing the opportunity to stimulate the economy in North Shields town centre, this ‘cultural corridor’ will play a pivotal role in reinvigorating the place and creating social and economic benefits for the people who live, work and visit there – building social inclusion and helping to create a sense of pride.”

The Berwick proposal, being led by Northumberland County Council, is subject to satisfactory completion of a full business case. It is reported to be ‘at an advanced stage of

development’.