Byker: Postcode NE6 2DJ
Responding to change
It was recognised that some things needed to change if Byker was to have a positive future in the twenty-first century. Among the options for Byker suggested in a 2001 council report were to hand the whole estate over to a private developer as a redevelopment scheme, to turn parts of it into a sheltered housing scheme or to turn it into student accommodation. In 2007 the estate was listed. In February 2008 the city council approved a scheme for developers to build a mixed development of flats and houses on part of the estate, some for sale and some to rent.
However the biggest change in recent times has been the creation of the Byker Community Trust, to own and manage the estate, following a tenant vote in 2011. Following its creation, the BCT plans to invest over £24 million overall, which started with a facelift for the famous Byker Wall.
The Byker Estate has had to evolve in response to changing social and environmental contexts. An example of this is the Bolam Coyne project. Bolam Coyne was originally built by Ralph Erskine within the Byker Estate in the 1970s as a mixture of 17 one to four bed properties in a circular layout which made it difficult to meet the different needs of the people living there. In particular access via shared balconies caused problems. This led to properties being unlet and empty and attracted anti-social behaviour. It was recognised that it would be better to give people a little more private space and to group families and elderly people together rather than trying to mix them up.
Newcastle City Council decided to empty the properties in 2000. One suggested possibility was demolition to form a car parking area. Unfortunately Bolam Coyne then remained empty for ten years and was repeatedly vandalised.
The management company Your Homes Newcastle worked with Wates Living Space, English Heritage and Mike Drage (one of the original architects on the Byker estate) and this resulted in a new future for Bolam Coyne turning it into 15 two and three-bed sustainable family homes. Each of these homes has its own ground level front door. These homes were made available to rent in February 2012.
The Bolam Coyne project won the regeneration category at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors North East Renaissance Awards 2013.
- Bolam Coyne project http://www.yhn.org.uk/about_us/new_build/byker_-_bolam_coyne.aspx
- BBC News story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-17145155
- Before pictures http://bolampics.blogspot.co.uk/
- Future Communities case study (Byker decline and recovery) http://futurecommunities.net/case-studies/byker-estate-newcastle-1967-present
- Byker retrospective (Newcastle Chronicle Oct 2016)
In January 2007 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced Byker had been Grade II* listed. Minister David Lammy said:
“The Byker estate is an extraordinary and outstanding piece of architecture which has won awards and attracted attention throughout its life. Its influence, both on design and the way we involve communities in the planning process, has been profound. It is right that it should now get the extra protection that listing provides. But listing does not mean that a building should be preserved unaltered for all time. Rather, it is a marker that the estate is important and decisive in its architectural influence, deserving special consideration if development plans ever come forward.” press release
Listing means that sustainable solutions need to be found for Byker and the regeneration of the estate has to be done in a sensitive way. Knocking down to rebuild or reuse land is less likely than before listing.
“The high design specifications of the buildings have made it very expensive to refurbish. Grade II listed status has both ensured that these specifications must be maintained, and opened up the possibilities of funding from heritage organisations to meet their high costs.” Future Communities
- Byker retrospective (Newcastle Chronicle Oct 2016) following the refurbishment of the Wall.
The Community Trust 2012
In July 2011 tenants on the Byker Estate voted overwhelmingly for a Community Trust to own and look after the estate on behalf of its residents.
The Trust now manages the Byker housing estate and the Byker investment programme. It is taking the lead on future development opportunities and is providing a neighbourhood management service for the estate.
“The Byker Community Trust has taken over ownership of 1,800 homes on the estate. And thanks to a £12m funding deal with Yorkshire Building Society, the trust has financial certainty for the next five years to help deliver much-needed investments to the Grade II-listed estate.”
The Trust is managed by a Board including community representatives, independent specialists and stakeholders such as the council and Your Homes Newcastle.
- Byker Community Trust website http://www.bykercommunitytrust.org/
- Newcastle council Byker page http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/planning-and-buildings/regeneration/byker-our-work
A tenure and property survey undertaken by the BCT shows that there are 1985 properties, 1805 of which are managed and let by the BCT. All of the 152 freehold properties are houses. There are a small number of bungalows and bedsits, but most properties are houses (46%), flats (27%) or maisonettes (25%). The majority of BCT properties are on the district heating scheme.
- Property and tenure summary 2012 http://www.bykercommunitytrust.org/sites/default/files/Byker%20Estate%20Property%20Summary.pdf
In summer 2013 the BCT was able to announce a £7 million facelift for the famous Byker Wall. This is part of a longer-term package of £24 million of improvements planned over a five-year period.
Jill Haley, chief executive of the BCT, said: “The refurbishment of the wall was one of our key promises to the people of Byker when we asked them to vote on how the estate should be owned and managed. It will be the most significant investment made to the Byker Wall in its history. … We are focused on delivering significant investment in Byker that not only achieves the required physical improvements, but is also used to deliver improved life chances, with opportunities for programmes and training that will provide new skills, apprenticeships and jobs. … By improving the economic and social conditions within the estate we hope to improve residents’ health and well-being. The improvements we are making to the wall will mean increased energy efficiency for residents and we are looking forward to the end result adding to the legacy of the Byker Estate.” http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/newcastles-historic-byker-wall-estate-4327219
At the beginning of April 2014, housing minister Kris Hopkins officially launched the refurbishment project, starting with Byker Crescent. http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/multi-million-pound-revamp-newcastles-byker-6901406
The BCT newsletters describe a number of other initiatives. There are plans to turn some of the estate’s 64 ‘hobby rooms’ into social enterprise units. Chirton House care home is being converted into new flats for rent and Avondale House has been converted to form transitional housing for armed forces veterans (34 one-bedroom flats). A breakfast club sponsored by Greggs bakery has started up at St Lawrence Primary school. Advice workers provide help with budgeting, information on benefit changes and there’s a weekly payment scheme, Own Your Own, to help with larger household purchases such as cookers, fridges and washing machines.
- BCT newsletters http://www.bykercommunitytrust.org/content/newsletters
- Avondale House, Byker https://www.afvg.co.uk/launchpad/living-at-avondale-house/
The developments on the Byker estate should not be seen in isolation. In the nearby Ouseburn Valley the Tyne Housing Association has built a small social housing development of 42 one-bedroom flats under Byker Bridge. The charitable association is well known for its work with vulnerable groups.
- First homes in more than 50 years built at Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley Chronicle news story Jan 2015 http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/first-homes-more-50-years-8421592