Newcastle has an attractive and vibrant town centre, with the genuine atmosphere and feel of a historic market town.
The market in the High Street, indeed, is a permanent feature, supplemented as an attraction by themed days, such as the local farmer’s market and French market.
Whether it’s looking for a bargain, coming for a meal or drink, going to the cinema, or exploring the sights, Newcastle is a welcoming place to visit. Pedestrianisation, too, certainly makes the town safe for children and the elderly alike.
The landmark Guildhall – dating from 1713, but whose origins go back to the 13th century – has recently been brought back into public use, as an information centre for the Borough Council.
The historic street pattern, including the 14th century Ironmarket, has a distinctly Georgian feel, following the replacement of most of the timber building by brick in the 18th century.
Sadly, as with many town centres up and down the land, several historic buildings of Paul’s youth were replaced with ‘modernist’ structures in the 1960s – acts for which the architecture and planning profession of the time should stand in the dock – but the town centre conservation areas have since helped preserve its essential character.
Newcastle’s centre possesses a variety of striking listed buildings, including the landmark Anglican St Giles church – dating back to 12th centre, but later reworked by the Gothic revivalist George Gilbert Scott – and at the opposite end of town the very different Holy Trinity Church, built in 1834 of Staffordshire blue brick and hailed at the time as ‘the finest modern specimen of ornamental brickwork in the kingdom’.
Other notable buildings include St George’ Church (built in 1828, originally by the evangelical movement), the Unitarian meeting house (1650, after it predecessor was burned down by ‘French and popish mob’) and the workshops in Barracks Road (1855. as a Militia Barracks and later HQ of the 3rd Kings Own Staffordshire Rifles).
Several years ago, astute negotiation added a further shopping thoroughfare – Market street – from the Ironmarket down to a remodelled bus station, as well as a fabulous multi-screen cinema in the High Street.
Of late, however, several poor decisions have been made, meaning that Paul takes a much greater involvement than most MPs in planning details, resisting pressure from speculative developers and encouraging the Council to be more robust and ambitious.
In this, he has been helped greatly by his wife Victoria, an experienced architect, Newcastle’s very conscientious Civic Society and Urban Vision, the architecture and design centre for North Staffordshire, of which he is the founding patron.
The challenge today is to resist poorly designed schemes from ‘fast buck’ property developers which will detract from the viability and feel of the town centre, particularly around the ring road, where several sites have already been cleared.
Fundamentally, too, Paul has also consistently pressed the Council to be more pro-active in planning Newcastle’s future, for instance by setting design standards and encouraging more specialist shopping, rather than just reactive to developer pressure.