Grey Street redesign ‘confused’, says new Newcastle City Council leader

The design of Grey Street, Newcastle, is coming under considerable scrutiny.

Newcastle’s new council leader will rethink a “confused” redesign of the city’s most beautiful street.

Grey Street has undergone some major changes in the past couple of years, with a series of temporary measures installed to take space away from cars and give it to pedestrians, cyclists, and pavement cafes.

The gradual revamp of the beloved city centre thoroughfare has been ultimately aimed towards a total pedestrianisation, the centrepiece of a £50m transformation of the city centre.

Grey Street, Newcastle.

But the recent power shift at Newcastle Civic Centre could throw the proposals into question.

Nick Kemp, who has recently replaced Nick Forbes as the city’s Labour council leader, has spoken out against the current state of the Georgian street, which has included laying temporary pavements and installing a long row of bollards.

The Byker councillor, who has promised a “reset” of the council under his new administration, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It has historically, until very recently, always been recognised as one of the most beautiful and attractive streets in Britain. Sadly, you could not say that now.

“I would like a review of Grey Street. Whatever we do needs to be something that adds intrinsically to the value of Grey Street.

“I need to have a better understanding of what the purpose was of the interventions that happened – I appreciate they are temporary, but they don’t add to the attractiveness of the street and we need to understand quite what it is we want to achieve and think about the meritocracy of people travelling around the city centre.

“For reasons of the pandemic, we have probably seen an increase in pavement cafes, etc. But that has an implication for people with buggies, wheelchairs, and just generally pedestrians.

“There needs to be an understanding of how we want Grey Street to work for the city. At the moment it feels confused.”

Removing all traffic from Grey Street was a long-standing aim of the former council leader, with Coun Forbes having repeatedly described it as England’s most beautiful car park.

Asked if he would still want a full pedestrianisation as the final aim of Grey Street’s redesign, Coun Kemp replied: “It comes back to overarching masterplanning. If we make it entirely pedestrianised, how are you able to travel around and across the city easily?”

He added: “The finish point should be that what we are trying to achieve from a pedestrian Grey Street isn’t simply a pedestrian Grey Street, it is doing something in the round. Have we thought through effectively how the businesses will operate and be serviced, how people will travel from one part of the city to another?”

Coun Kemp compared the situation to that on neighbouring Blackett Street, where a public inquiry is looming into the city council’s plan to ban vehicles.

He said: “It is the same story as Blackett Street – if you said this is what will be in place… as an alternative to what you currently have and this is how easy and accessible it will be, then you take people with you. If you simply say that we are stopping you doing what you have done for the last 30 or 40 years, there will be an obvious consequence.”

Coun Kemp, who was formally installed as council leader at the end of May, has also been critical of the previous Labour administration’s plans to pave over the grass on Old Eldon Square.

He said the plaza is “incredibly important” as a place of respite in the city and wants to keep it as a green space.