HMRC's Pilgrim Quarter good news for Newcastle city centre - but robust travel plans are vital, say Opposition Liberal Democrats
The announcement that HM Revenue and Customs is set to transfer its Newcastle operations from its Benton Park View complex to a new office development in the Pilgrim Street area has been welcomed by Newcastle City Council's Opposition Liberal Democrats group as good news for the city centre economy, but the council is being urged to start planning now for the impact of thousands more journeys each day on a fragile public transport system.
Although the existing Ministry complex on Benton Park Road is relatively well served by public transport, there are still thousands of commuter car journeys and extensive car parking at the current site which are unlikely to be practical options for the new city centre HQ. The current financial crisis facing the local public transport network is a major additional complication, with a significant possibility of reduced services and reduced capacity on buses and Metro.
There are already serious practical objections by bus operators about the council's radical reorganisation of city centre bus routes, including the closure of Pilgrim Street, Blackett Street, and New Bridge Street West. Major construction work on an entire block of the city centre at a key corner of the bus loop will undoubtedly have an impact on bus services too and the Lib Dem Opposition is asking for public reassurance that the council has fully taken this into account in planning its changes to city centre bus stops.
Liberal Democrats Opposition transport spokesperson Cllr Greg Stone said:
"The Pilgrims Quarter development is very good news in terms of boosting the city centre's economy. Thousands of office workers will generate significant additional demand for city centre retail, bars, and restaurants. But it will bring with it a clear challenge for thousands of workers who will need to change their journeys to work, and I think it's imperative the council starts work now with HMRC, the Reuben Brothers, and Nexus to identify how a sustainable travel plan can be implemented.
"It is extremely unlikely that commuting by car will be feasible for the new HQ, given the lack of parking and existing congestion problems on key routes. But there are very real concerns about the fragility of public transport alternatives, given the current Joint Transport Committee financial crisis. I think there is a real challenge ahead if fears of significant reductions to bus and Metro capacity become a reality in coming years.
"Work needs to start immediately on a sustainable transport plan for the new HQ, including active travel connections crossing the Central Motorway and reliable and accessible public transport alternatives for commuters. We would expect to see a robust plan in place for this with significant financial contributions from HMRC and the site developers. This is going to be a key test of their professed commitment to supporting the regeneration of the city centre."