As Trinity Square shoots up, the demolition of Gateshead Tesco nears its end
Seven weeks after it shut its doors to customers, only a tiny fragment of Gateshead’s former Tesco superstore remains standing.
Thompsons of Prudhoe – who seem to have a hand in almost every Tyneside demolition project – had reduced the store to just a stump on the corner of Lambton Street and High Street by the time I visited yesterday, though there’s still plenty of rubble from the rest of the store to be cleared away yet.
The removal of the Tesco store does drive home quite how massive the £150m Trinity Square development is. While the steel frames of new buildings now cover a large chunk of the site – more of which in a moment – much of the yet-to-be-developed land should be occupied by a 175,000 sqft Tesco Extra in less than a year’s time.
That moment probably can’t come soon enough for those Gateshead shoppers who have had to change their supermarket habits while the old store is redeveloped. Yesterday, I paid my first visit to the temporary Tesco store in the High Street, but I can’t see it mopping up more than a tiny fraction of the former Tesco’s spend. It’s incredibly small – surprisingly so for an ex-Kwik Save site – and is consequently very busy and lacking in range, with what seems like a disproportionately large area occupied by the pharmacy. It’s better than nothing, but I can see myself sticking to Eldon Square Waitrose or even the better-equipped Dunston Co-op for any future purchases. The fact that two fairly basic items on my list – onions and salmon fillets – were sold out certainly didn’t help.
Elsewhere in the Trinity Square scheme, work should be starting before long on the £4.7m nine-screen Vue cinema that I mentioned last time, after Gateshead planners granted permission for the development a couple of weeks ago. Scheduled for completion in summer 2013, the five-storey cinema building – with its “bronze coloured reflective cladding and large areas of glazing” – should certainly raise the average standard of the architecture on Gateshead High Street, much of which is currently either unremarkable or in poor condition.
If I understand correctly, the new cinema will sit roughly where Littlewoods used to be – facing both the High Street and the new town square that will be created at the heart of the Trinity Square scheme – close to the existing Poundland (ex-Woolworths) block. It has to be hoped that some of the benefits of the new investment will filter out into the surrounding area; the adjacent ex-Burton building, for example, has a lovely frontage if only you can look beyond the unappealing later shopfronts and garish signage.
Interestingly, though Tesco Extra and Vue are to my knowledge the scheme’s only confirmed lettings to date (though I know, unofficially, of several others), the artist’s impression of the cinema (below) clearly shows an adjacent Costa Coffee outlet. Given that visualisations like this tend to feature made-up fascias unless specific lettings have been agreed, it would suggest that Costa is coming too: not a big deal for lots of high streets, but a welcome addition to the retail/leisure mix of Gateshead town centre, where none of the big-name coffee chains currently have a presence.
On the opposite side of the scheme, in West Street, progress is proving swift on those parts of the development where work started first. The large block next to Argos – which I believe will feature ground-floor retail with offices on the upper levels – is starting to look like a finished building, with cladding and glazing now in place.
The same is true of the new ‘street’ – linking West Street to the central square, and in turn the cinema and High Street – where coloured cladding panels are being affixed to the shop unit frontages, and the scene is increasingly resembling the artist’s impression from a year or two ago.
Just as Tesco itself polarises opinion, so the ongoing reaction to Trinity Square seems split between those who are enthusiastic about what they see as a bold and modern mixed-use scheme, and those who view it as a poor quality ‘Tesco town’ that will ultimately succumb to the same fate, in thirty years’ time, as the car park and shopping centre that it’s replacing. From retail, design and Gateshead resident perspectives, I make no apology for falling much more into the former camp.
Any ultimate verdict will have to wait until we see the final quality of the buildings, spaces and lettings, and have a better sense of the scheme’s connectedness with and impact on the rest of the town centre. However, the development’s mix of retail, offices, leisure and student housing has the potential to transform both the daytime and nighttime economies of Gateshead, and, whatever you might think of Tesco, it’s hard to imagine who else would ever have committed to that £150m investment.