Sustainable Cities™

Newcastle: towards a shared low-carbon economy

Since the industrial age Newcastle has suffered successive waves of economic restructuring which decimated its manufacturing base and scarred entire generations and neighborhoods with unemployment. Yet, during the 1990s Newcastle, along with some other traditional UK industrial cities experienced what is called an “urban renaissance”. Today Newcastle and Gateshead are reinventing themselves as one cityscape with two seperated “service centers”, increasingly looking towards science and knowledge due to generate sustainable growth.

Newcastle, Bridge. Photo: URBACT

This case study will refer to Newcastle City's recovery plan - which takes place within the framework of the strategic plan for both Newcastle and Gateshead - which itself is based on the OECD's Territorial Review for the entire city-region. Of particular interest is the way Newcastle has linked economic, employment and "place-making" measures to shift the city towards an economy based on science, a low carbon economy, health, and creativity. Newcastle is the administrative capital of the North East region of England of 2.5 million inhabitants located next to the Scottish Border. Newcastle forms the economic heart of the Newcastle City Region, made up of five municipalities around the Tyne and Wear Valley.

Since 1981 the population of Newcastle and Gateshead has declined by 7.3%, although it started to make a modest recovery after the year 2000, mainly as a result of the growing student population and an influx of migrants. The OECD argues that these assets can provide a base for a variety of tourism, retail and other activities which can provide "entry level" jobs for less skilled people who cannot all access higher technology sectors. The OECD also finds that "transport connections (air, rail, road and sea) and the good availability of broadband telecommunications mean that these factors are not impediments to growth". The challenge is to ensure that Newcastle evolves into a more sustainable "compact" city, with an economically sustainable and socially vibrant centre.


"…Transport connections (air, rail, road and sea) and the good availability of broadband telecommunications mean that these factors are not impediments to growth". OECD

From crisis to low-carbon economy thorough low-carbon transport
The recession really hit the headlines in the city when Northern Rock, the first UK Bank to face liquidity problems and require assistance from the Government, potentially putting all 1,500 jobs in its Newcastle headquarters at risk. In practice, the bank has continued to operate and, although the workforce was reduced, most ex-employees found alternative employment. Since then, a series of other service firms (Newcastle Building Society, Sage) and major manufacturing companies (Nissan, Findus) have also cut jobs, hours or wages.

The main sectors affected have been manufacturing and construction as well as financial services. In the two years up to April 2010 unemployment in the city rose by more than half from 3.3% to 5.2% leading to an extra 3512 people claiming benefits. Low skilled workers and people on part-time and fixed term contracts have suffered most with these kinds of job losses being heavily concentrated in the most deprived areas. Property prices, planning applications and house completions all fell significantly in 2009. The Council of Welfare Rights estimates that income from capital receipts will be reduced by around 20 million pounds over the next 3 years. David Slater, Executive Director of Environment and Regeneration at Newcastle City Council says:

"...we reckon to be leading the way in transport which reduces CO2 emissions and helps to prepare us for a low carbon economy. Newcastle will cut its CO2 emission through electric cars and public transportation."

The city has been chosen to become the main electric car capital in an experiment support by the government. Within the next couple of years 1,000 charging points will be installed throughout the cityscape of Newcastle (and Gateshead). Yet, the greatest and greenest part of the city's transport network is still the Tyneside Metro with 60 stations - including the train stations, the city centre and the Quayside with the rest of the Tyne and Wear. Carrying 40 million passengers per year the Metro has recently been rated as one of the most efficient in the UK.

Bridging Newcastle and Gateshead (BNG) programme

Thus, to complete the picture, in January 2010, between the first draft of the response and the last update, the newly formed joint city development company, BNG, through the NewcastleGateshead Plan - which is the first joint economic and spatial blue print of what the two cities could become in the next twenty years in the context of the broader city region. The Plan spells out 4 key priorities and 10 key steps, on how some of the more long term measures in the recovery package could be implemented.

One of the most interesting aspects of the long term strategic vision contained in Plan is the way in which it combines spatial planning, local and regional regeneration with the promotion of a more sustainable urban economy. Looking back at some of the things they have achieved since they started work in 2003, it is clear that life has improved in all of the communities and the local housing market is stronger. Thanks to the removal of eyesore properties, homes being improved and vacant properties restored. The level of empty homes in the area has reduced from 7.7 % in 2003 to 5.7 %, and this takes us closer to the regional average.

Levels of worklessness in BNG have reduced from 30% of the working age population to 25%, although a recent increase since the recession is consistent with national trends. Our latest research shows that the neighbourhoods are improving to a greater degree than those outside of BNG. Many of these improvements can be linked to the schemes that BNG has funded - and local stakeholders appear happy to back that up. They estimate that 60,000 people across Newcastle-Gateshead have so far been directly or positively affected by the BNG programme, with many more likely to be in the future. Read more

Two Types of Job Creation

The OECD Territorial Review recommended that the city should "reinvent its specialization" based on a "greater utilization of the regions assets: its universities and its natural and cultural assets". This is taken up in the regional plan in the form of a series of measures to promote clusters of high productivity sectors based around the regions existing strengths. The NewcastleGateshead 1 Plan proposes a series of long term measures to deal with both ends of the labor market.

They argue that "the growth of the knowledge economy will create jobs for a new generation of technicians and skilled workers, and by attracting visitors and boosting the income base, we will stimulate tourism and other sectors which will provide valuable entry level jobs." Of course, one of the central challenges facing cities in future years will be whether "entry" means for life, or whether, in reality, there is some progression between the two types of job.

Knowledge-based growth

Newcastle has reinvented recently itself as a "service city", which is recovering from the post industrial down turn, by increasingly looking towards science and the knowledge economy. The development of a competitive knowledge base. There are 4 universities within the Newcastle city region, two of which (Newcastle and Durham) are ranked very highly in research and teaching terms. 

Public investment has led to research strengths in fields like ageing and health at Newcastle University's Institute for Ageing and Health; in stem cell and regenerative medicine at the International Centre for Life; and in energy and the environment, which will be the scientific focus of the Science Central site, a 24-acre development in the heart of Newcastle city centre.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011 / By Signe Cecilie Jochumsen

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014