The changes to Ouseburn over the past 70 years are physical examples of central government and city council policies put into practice on the ground. In particular the various phases of Ouseburn’s development reflect the availability of government funds for particular objectives and the changing fashions and fads of regeneration.
Early 20th century
- 1930: the Housing Act finally gives Newcastle Corporation the powers and funds to begin a process of slum clearance. The area changes character from crowded heavy industrial quarter to a neglected, little populated enclave as widespread slum clearance takes place. The Ouseburn Valley’s housing stock is almost entirely privately owned and much is poorly maintained and very over-crowded. The old tenement properties like the Brown Jug Yard (Stepney Bank) and Warburton’s Buildings (Lime Street) are amongst the first to be demolished.
- 1939: The outbreak of war temporarily suspends the programme of slum clearance. The Victoria Tunnel is opened up at Ouse Street and Crawhall Road and entrances created so that the tunnel can be used as an air raid shelter.
- 1940s and 1950s: The slum clearance programme is renewed and the Ouseburn Valley is transformed as virtually the whole population is re-housed in new Council housing elsewhere in the city. A few commercial properties survive this demolition, including a number of public houses which today help define the character of the area.
- Landfill waste tipping into the Valley above Ouseburn Culvert, which began in 1906, is completed by 1950s - mainly to connect the new housing area of Heaton with the city centre. Warwick Street is established as new east-west road and the adjoining plateau linking Heaton to Shieldfield is developed as a City Stadium.
- Land is seen as having little economic value. The riverside along Lime Street is occupied for leisure use by Newcastle Motor Boat Club and the Ouseburn Homing Pigeon Association.
- The City Planning Officer’s Report on the Ouseburn Valley is produced in 1962 alongside many other similar documents including a report for Shieldfield & Melbourne Street.
- The plan envisages buying up private land in the Lower Valley with the aim of turning it all into a series of landscaped parks and open spaces.
- The land is cleared of businesses using Compulsory Purchase Orders from the area south of the landfill site first, working down towards the Tyne.
- Money runs out before the project could be completed, but a significant area is cleared and becomes open space – from City Stadium to below Byker Bank.
- The transformation of Byker begins with a huge urban development project to replace terraced housing with modern homes. Swedish based project architect, Ralph Erskine, establishes his office in a former funeral directors shop in the middle of the area. Tenants are encouraged to become involved in decisions. The famous Byker Wall takes shape to protect the planned 2,500 houses from noise from the proposed motorway.
- At the time there is a strong focus on community action, spearheaded by a Byker councillor, John Davies (a University sociology lecturer). He instigated the formation of co-operatives to start businesses in Ouseburn.
- 1976: As the city farm movement is just beginning to establish itself in Britain, City Farm Byker is established on the former Northumberland Lead Works site. The City Council lease a significant area below Byker Bridge to the Farm.
- Emergence of Byker Phoenix, a community magazine produced by Byker residents, with regular reports on the new city farm plus heritage columns by local residents. The heritage value of Ouseburn gradually becomes recognised.
1977- Mid 80s
- Ouseburn is declared an Industrial Improvement Area (the first in Newcastle) in response to changes in government policy aiming to revive derelict areas through industry.
- The emphasis is on improving local infrastructure to support local businesses e.g. upgrading roads, building retaining walls and awarding business grants.
- 1982: the Metro Bridge is completed across the Valley
1980s - Mid 90s
- Massive investment in Newcastle Quayside from the city centre to the mouth of the Ouseburn is undertaken by Tyne and Wear Development Corporation. Some uses which do not fit into the TWDC vision are relocated from the desirable Quayside to land seen as less valuable in the Lower Ouseburn. The bulk of the Homing Association’s pigeon crees are moved from the Quayside to Byker Bank and Shepherd’s Scrap Yard moved to Ford Street from next to St Peters Basin.
- 1982: 36 Lime St building is purchased and partly occupied by Bruvvers Theatre Company and unused space begins to be occupied by artists. This is later regularised into a co-operative with a formal lease.
- A development trust, the Ouseburn Trust, is formed towards the end of the TWDC development, as fears grow that the momentum towards clearing land and constructing new buildings could threaten the remaining Victorian heritage in the Ouseburn.
- Industrial Improvement funding is on the wane. However, urged on by concerned local councillors, the City Council produces a new development strategy to look at the Ouseburn Valley and assess its potential, in terms of how each area could be used. One concern is how to spread visitors down to Lower Valley from the pressurised Jesmond Dene area.
- The strategy also looks at bringing back residential accommodation into the Lower Ouseburn, to exist alongside established businesses and making use of empty buildings and derelict sites.
- A new stream of funding from government, Inner City Partnership, becomes available to fund regeneration of inner city areas.
- This enables the construction of the riverside walkway and new bridge linking the farm to the other side of the river, signposts from the Jesmond Dene to the river mouth moorings on river, gateway sculptures and paths, plus the production of a heritage booklet and refurbishing and securing the Ouse Street entrance to the Victoria Tunnel.
Into 21st Century
- Another government shift in regeneration funding takes place, this time through consecutive rounds of ‘Single Regeneration Budgets’ (SRB). The Ouseburn Trust takes the lead in a partnership with the City Council and successfully applied for money from SRB round 3.
- This £2.4M of SRB funding establishes The Ouseburn Partnership, thereby initiating the programme of social and economic regeneration required to halt the decline of the area. A staff team is established in the Ouseburn Valley to deliver this programme in partnership with local stakeholders and the wider community.
- The Partnership concentrated on a small area to show what could be done, providing new lighting and CCTV, refurbishing buildings including the Ouseburn Trust-owned units and offices at 51-59 Lime St and The Cluny bar, building a new indoor riding arena for Stepney Bank Stables, a new car park under Byker Bridge arches, an eco centre for the city farm and Housing Association flats in Steenbergs Buildings on Lime Street.
- Following the end of the Ouseburn Partnership, Single Programme funding from One North East through TyneWear Partnership is secured. This is overseen by the Ouseburn Advisory Committee, advising the City Council Executive on Ouseburn matters, but, unusually, chaired by Bob Langley from the Ouseburn Trust.
- The emphasis is on economic and business development, with the main aim of job creation.
- As part of a national trend, the community of artists in the Ouseburn are now seen as an economic asset, with cultural industries in general valued. New cultural industries are attracted into the area and the emphasis is on refurbishing empty buildings for cultural and business purposes.
- There is also new focus on rebranding the Ouseburn, to increase its attractiveness to new businesses and visitors.
- New initiatives include the opening of Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books, and a revived and expanded premises for education and training on the Byker Farm site, renamed Ouseburn Farm.
- 2003: Newcastle City Council publishes its `Regeneration Strategy for the Lower Ouseburn Valley’.
- A final three year regeneration project is funded by Regional Development Agency One North East using Single Programme funding.
- Called ‘Completing Regeneration’, the project’s aim is to prepare the Valley for the end of public sector funding by encouraging further regeneration through investment from the private sector. Activities include further grant schemes, including support to The Round theatre, Brickworks artist’s studios, a project to improve legibility, environmental improvements, McPhees Car Park and planning and feasibility studies helping to bring forward remaining sites with development potential.