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The Rise is an eye-catching Newcastle development with views over the River Tyne.
Boosted by the government’s Help to Buy mortgage support scheme and promising large eco-friendly homes – flats start at £89,950 and houses at £109,000 – it has already attracted 2,500 registrations of interest.
“It’s a fantastic space, overlooking the river – why wouldn’t you want to live here?” says Mike Roberts, of Barratt Homes, one of two housebuilders on the site.
There is a reason, for hesitation at least. The location is Scotswood, which became infamous in the 1990s for unemployment, rioting and crime.
The 82 houses and flats under construction by Barratt and Keepmoat, for occupation from late May, are the first built for sale in Scotswood for 60 years.
The name The Rise is symbolic; this projected £265m development of 1,800 homes over the next 15 to 20 years is planned to improve a once-notorious area and encourage people to move in.
Many urban parts of the UK have, in recent decades, faced the challenge of housing developments in decline. Scotswood is a prime example.
From the 1970s, as the riverside heavy industry that had sustained its working class population shrank, unemployment and disorder grew. Predominantly a huge 1930s council estate, plus an area of older terraces, it gained a fearsome reputation.
“If you said you lived in Scotswood people stigmatised you; there were always burglaries, car crime; it was just wanton vandalism and destruction,” says former resident Michael Hall.
Newcastle city council spent £500m, mostly of public money, over 20 years on piecemeal regeneration schemes to try to arrest decline in the city’s West End, which includes Scotswood.
Then, in 1999, it announced “Going for Growth” – a massive demolition and rebuilding scheme. After the initial uproar, the area went further downhill, maintaining momentum for demolition despite political change in the council.
In Scotswood, 1,800 homes were razed, leaving 163 acres of empty grassland, fringed by the remaining council housing and terraces. The years of decline and demolition were tough for remaining residents.
“People were going into the empty houses, setting fire to them,” says Alma Wheeler, a resident and campaigner for regeneration.
There were grand plans, talk of a Swedish-inspired “expo” of avant garde housing. Then came the credit crunch, recession and public spending cuts.
Newcastle city council, back in Labour control since 2011, formed a public-private partnership to try to get development started.
The council has provided the land, supported by £24m of public funds for infrastructure and social development, creating the New Tyne West Development Company in a joint venture with Barratt and Keepmoat.
The company has been keen to engage locals and has supported the Scotswood café, a meeting point for a community that has few shops or amenities.
“I wanted to keep the café because everything was pulled down,” says Janice Oliver, who runs it. She still has 17 family members living in her surviving street of council houses.
The builders and development company are also supporting local schools and are creating apprenticeships.
But some local residents point out that only 15 per cent of the redevelopment will be for rent and shared ownership – part-rent, part-buy – schemes.
Tension between old residents and incomers can be a problem, says Sir Peter Hall, a regeneration expert.
But, he says: “The original community came into existence to serve an economy that has disappeared. The answer is to assist the repopulation of the city by the middle class. It’s the least worst solution.”
New approach to neglected areas
In urban areas all over Britain, 19th century industrial development led to the building of hundreds of thousands of terraced homes for the families of workers in pits, mills and factories.
The first part of the 20th century saw creation of big council estates, sometimes after slum clearance, offering homes to rent for working class occupants.
But in the past 30 years, the decline of industry, coupled with the growth of commuting and home ownership, has left many of these areas sidelined, creating a downward spiral of dwindling demand and confidence.
Underlying their physical decay, says Sir Peter Hall, professor of planning and regeneration at University College London, is the economic decline facing their residents.
The Labour government in 2002 launched Pathfinder Housing Market Renewal to tackle low housing demand in parts of the Midlands and north of England. Scotswood was included. Pathfinder’s approach was mass demolitions, rebuilding and refurbishment. The £2.2bn scheme was very controversial and the coalition government scrapped it in 2011.
Now, there is a focus on avoiding “mono tenure” – housing stock for one kind of tenant or income group.
Local authorities and private developers tend to work in partnership on mixed schemes, where social housing is built among sufficient private homes to ensure commercial viability.
Examples include New Islington in Manchester, the Amy Johnson scheme in West Hull and Scotswood.
The challenge is to achieve a critical mass to improve the area, yet not to flood the market.
Tom Warburton, Newcastle city council’s director of investment, says: “Turning around areas like that is a long, hard road.”