Region's Skills Helping Boost Our Economy; the North East Has the Skills to Drive Economic Recovery - If London Will Let It. Architecture Journalist JAMES PALLISTER Finds an Optimistic Architectural Scene in Newcastle, the City with the Highest Density of Architects outside London

The Journal (Newcastle, England), April 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Region's Skills Helping Boost Our Economy; the North East Has the Skills to Drive Economic Recovery - If London Will Let It. Architecture Journalist JAMES PALLISTER Finds an Optimistic Architectural Scene in Newcastle, the City with the Highest Density of Architects outside London


Byline: JAMES PALLISTER

THE hunger to take charge and drive the recovery is everywhere. And what is standing in the way is London wanting to take all the decisions."

It was rousing stuff from Michael Heseltine, speaking on Radio 4's Today programme shortly after the Government had formally accepted the lion's share of the 89 recommendations he made in his No Stone Unturned report.

Just three years after the Coalition's Emergency Budget abolished the regional development agencies, Heseltine made the case for a rebalancing of England's economy away from London, saying: "London didn't make this country. It was our great cities where the wealth was started in the 18th and 19th Centuries."

Any practising architect in Newcastle could have told him that. Boasting England's highest concentration of architects outside London, its fine Regency streets are a solid reminder of the wealth that used to flow through this regional centre.

Despite the closure of several firms since 2008, its architectural scene continues to build top-quality work both at home and in far-flung locations.

But the North East is having it tough.

Public spending cuts have seen councils cut thousands of staff; it has the UK's highest unemployment rate. Unison reported earlier this month that four times as many of its members in the region - including those in work - are asking for handouts from the union.

The city's architects have had a grim few years, though several now report an uplift over the past six months.

A cheerful Paul Jones, Professor of Architecture at Northumbria University, says: "Sometimes you feel like one of those Roman soldiers posted to Hadrian's Wall.

Such is the UK's centralism it's easy to feel cut off, even though London King's Cross is just a three-hour train ride away.

"We never had the boom in the way Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds had and as a consequence we have less distance to fall. As architects got made redundant they set up their own practices. They seem to pick up very good bespoke work, but those in the middle have suffered."

Prof Jones is a strong advocate of the region. "People say we're like Brown Ale - it doesn't travel well.

"The truth is people want to stay here. Not because they're parochial, just because they like it."

Graham Farmer, head of architecture school at the University of Newcastle, agrees, pointing to the region's quality of life as a big reason why people like to live and practise here. …

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