Three-storey retail tenant “secured” to replace Newcastle’s Green Market
As someone with an appetite for retail news stories, I like to occasionally visit Newcastle City Council’s planning applications website. Often, planning applications are where interesting developments in the world of retail first come to light, or can be useful in confirming speculation that such-and-such a retailer is indeed looking to move into such-and-such a property.
The latest application to capture my attention (2009/1844/01/LBC) relates to 139-153 Grainger Street in Newcastle city centre, close to Grey’s Monument and the High Friars entrance to Eldon Square. As you can see, the summary text of the application suggests that some quite significant reconfiguration of the property is on the cards:
Listed Building Application: Internal works to all floors including reinstatement of original 2nd floor level, creation of lift shaft from basement to 3rd floor, removal and installation of partitions, removal of staircase from basement to 1st floor and creation of staircase from 2nd to first floor.
What, you might ask, occupies 139-153 Grainger Street at the moment? Well, Grade II-listed and part of Richard Grainger’s celebrated 1830s development of the city centre, the building’s ground floor currently houses retailers such as Vodafone, Phones 4U, Dune, Jigsaw and Kurt Geiger. However, the adjacent French Connection store is a separate property.
Though it’s difficult to conceive from the street, the first and second floors of 139-153 Grainger Street – accessible only from inside the Eldon Square shopping centre – are what accommodate the current Green Market at High Friars, and before that the ill-fated music retailer MVC. (I, for one, had not appreciated until now that the MVC / Green Market site is not an integral part of the Eldon Square mall, but instead is under the entirely separate ownership of Aviva Investors Pensions Ltd.) Somewhat controversially, you may recall, the Green Market at High Friars opened in May 2007 as a temporary replacement of sorts for the previous and much larger Greenmarket (spelt as one word) in Clayton Street, which was closed down in order to make space for the St Andrew’s Way extension of Eldon Square.
None the wiser as to how these existing retail uses would be affected by the proposed changes, I trawled through the 34 documents attached to the application – containing plans, correspondence and other information – in order to draw some conclusions. This exercise revealed some interesting findings.
First, the most notable structural change proposed will involve the second floor of the building – previously lowered in the 1980s to align with the mall level of the Eldon Square shopping centre – being restored to its original height. This will result in the floor levels of the building once again corresponding to the proportions of the façade, where currently the lowered second floor is visible through the first floor windows. At the moment, if I understand correctly, the second floor is what houses the upper level of the Green Market.
Second – and perhaps most significantly – the Design and Access Statement prepared by the planning consultants states that “A new tenant has been secured for the building who will occupy one of the ground floor units and the remainder of the upper floors”. The first and second floors will be for retail use, with the third floor providing “staff facilities and storage”.
To allow the building to function as a three-storey unit for a single retailer, the plans also envisage the insertion of stairs and a lift to link together all the floors. In addition, the Design and Access Statement notes that “there will no longer be a connection between the building and the Eldon Shopping Centre
So, in summary, what does all this actually mean?
- A new and quite sizeable three-storey unit is being created for a tenant that has already been signed up – but we don’t know who yet. Could it perhaps be Urban Outfitters, recently speculated to be coming to Newcastle, and which would sit well among the other fashion stores at that end of Grainger Street? If so, this would be a significant shot in the arm for Grainger Town, given that it has seemed to be struggling of late.
- One of the existing retailers facing Grainger Street must be about to leave or move in order to free up the ground floor space that is required. I’m not aware, however, that any of the current retailers in the building are signed up to move to the Eldon Square extension.
- The proposed development will inevitably involve the closure of the Green Market at High Friars.
The apparent closure of the Green Market at High Friars is not wholly unexpected – when I dropped by a few days ago it was quite a sad experience, with only a handful of stallholders hanging on across the two floors. Indeed, when the plan to include a new Greenmarket within the St Andrew’s Way redevelopment was dropped in June 2008, many of the former traders had either wound down their businesses following the closure of the previous Greenmarket, had relocated to the nearby Grainger Market, or were struggling to operate successfully from the out-of-the-way High Friars site.
Nevertheless, unless I’ve missed something, the lack of any coverage – or perhaps even awareness – of what appears to be the current Green Market’s impending closure is surprising.
True, today’s Green Market is undoubtedly a pale imitation of its predecessors, and it’s difficult to make much of a case for saving what remains. However, given the Green Market’s long history – starting as an open-air market outside St Andrew’s Church in Newgate Street – and multiple subsequent incarnations, it would surely be a shame if it simply vanished without anyone realising.