Cruddas Park renamed Riverside Dene: Postcode NE4 7DX
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Work first started on these tower blocks in 1961. The area had long been dominated by Armstrong’s arms works and Vickers who built tanks close to the Scotswood Road. During the nineteenth-century rows and rows of closely packed houses filled the banks of the Tyne to house factory workers. These houses and the works can be seen clearly in historic OS maps of the area.
By the 1950s these had become run-down residential areas and the housing was considered to be low-amenity slums. The slums were cleared and new flats were built by Wimpey to a Swedish modular design (so popular with council developers it became known as the standard point block). The tower blocks were named after trees and bushes as some of the former streets had been (e.g. Sycamore, Pine, Hawthorns and Willows).
It was originally named Cruddas Park after George Cruddas who was a director of Armstrong’s arms works in Elswick and lived in Dene House which stood in this area.
The Cruddas Park housing scheme was part of T. Dan Smith’s grand plan for a ‘city in the sky’. Smith was from a working-class family in Wallsend and he became a visionary leader of Newcastle City Council. He wanted to make Newcastle a modern city and his vision included urban motorways, a metro public transport system and high profile architecture (all of which Newcastle now has). However, power corrupts and Smith got caught in a web of deceit and he ended up serving six years in jail. It has been alleged Smith took cash and other perks for awarding the Cruddas Park contracts. The obituary below describes Smith living at Cruddas Park in his post-prison later years.
- Obituary – T Dan Smith The Independent 28th July 1993
- History, maps and photos of the Elswick area http://www.timarchive2.freeuk.com/html/elswick.htm
- Cruddas Park being built (1960) Evening Chronicle photo
In the late 1980s it was decided to revitalise the area, which had become the focus of criminal activity and had gained a reputation that would prove to be hard to get rid of. A number of legal evictions took place. New entrances were added to the blocks, entry systems installed and caretakers appointed. The shopping centre was also improved with security shutters, CCTV and security patrols.
By 2000 it was evident more needed to be done. Your Homes Newcastle, the council’s arms length housing management company, aimed to revamp Cruddas Park for the 21st century. The New Deal for Communities (NDC) initiative involved residents closely in making their area a better place to live. Consultation was undertaken on the plans for the ten Cruddas Park tower blocks, which included new kitchens and bathrooms, new low-rise family homes and redeveloping the shopping centre. Work started in the autumn of 2006. Opportunities for residents to buy affordable homes in four of the blocks and a green energy options to help reduce tenants’ fuel bills were proposed at the time (April 2006).
“The six-year scheme will include internal improvements, a striking new look to the blocks and improvements to the surrounding area. The scheme will also bring a better choice in the size of the flats, as well as environmentally friendly measures to protect the environment and keep fuel bills low. Homes in five of the blocks will be made available for sale, whilst the five other blocks and Cruddas Park House will continue to be managed by Your Homes Newcastle.” From Bridging Newcastle Gateshead website which is no longer available [http://www.bridgingng.org.uk/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=41&Itemid=65].
- Images of the flats prior to redevelopment (1987): http://www.towerblock.eca.ed.ac.uk/development/scotswood-road-hawes-street-redevelopment-area
Renamed Riverside Dene (2009)
On April 2nd 2009, with the revamp well under way, the new name for the area ‘Riverside Dene’ was unveiled by Army abseilers down the side of one of the blocks. A new show flat was on view to prospective tenants. The scheme’s first phase, which included complete redevelopment of The Hawthorns, The Larches and The Sycamores over a 21-month period with new outer coatings and noncombustible mineral fibre insulation, was projected to cost £31 million. Flats were made available for rent through Your Homes Newcastle. Private partners in the scheme included Gentoo, Bellway and Wates Living Space. Purchasers were fewer than forecast and ‘homes’ were still available for sale in December 2012.
“It’s by far the biggest revamp since the blocks were built in the 1960s – and we want to show that this is a great place to live,” said David Slater. “The name celebrates the area’s fantastic views and its historical connections with the River Tyne. “The Northumbrian word ‘Dene’ highlights its parkland and green spaces – but also remembers the original Cruddas family, who lived in nearby Dene House. The new name will encourage new residents to make their home here, which will help to support better shops and services for everyone.”
Local resident Hassan Abbas, who has lived in the blocks for five years, welcomed the change: “I think it will be nice to have a new name, if we’re going to get more people to come here to live,” he said. “If anyone wants to come and live here, please do – it’s got tons of green land and the community is really nice here too.” From the NDC website which is no longer available [http://www.newcastlendc.co.uk/page/newsroom/news/index.cfm?ArticleId=252].
New Deal for the Communities came to an end in March 2010. By March 2011 the local press reported £28 million had been spent and Newcastle City Council had agreed to provide access to 95% mortgages.
“The council hopes the influx of owner-occupiers to the area will help secure its future as an attractive place to live. The authority’s mortgage support is designed to help first time buyers get on to the property ladder at a time when the mortgage market is still in flux. There are one-bed, two-bed and two-bed duplex apartments available with prices ranging from £50,000 – £90,000.”
Centre West’s website reported four blocks fully let to social tenants and one block ‘nearly full’ with homeowners (2011). The remaining five blocks, such as the Poplars had to be demolished (see: demolition photo of The Poplars). The reality is that the flats were hard to sell to potential homeowners in financially challenging times.
Meanwhile Cruddas Park House and the associated shopping centre and amenities such as the library have also been refurbished more recently. Plans were passed in February 2014 to fit replacement aluminium double-glazed windows and fix new external wall insulation and most of this work took place in 2015.
Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017, the council had the cladding on tower blocks tested and all of Newcastle’s high-rise homes were found to be ‘not combustible’ [Newcastle Chronicle 28 June 2017]. Residents in some of Sunderland’s multi-storey flats have had their cladding stripped and inappropriate cladding has been found on student accommodation [BBC News 26 June 2017; Newcastle Chronicle 1 Aug 2017]. The local Chronicle newspaper has been running a campaign called What price life? to get sprinklers retro-fitted and other work carried out in North East tower blocks.
- Riverside Dene – a fairer future Newcastle City Council cabinet report presented 25th July 2012 (agenda item 15) Pdf document http://democracy.newcastle.gov.uk/documents/s50182/Riverside%20Dene.pdf downloaded from http://democracy.newcastle.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=857&MId=4117&Ver=4
- Photos of refurbishment of Cruddas Park House on Skyscraper City (2015) http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?s=f83e836d8467f87125cd8da28e47dc27&p=123528763&postcount=243
- External coatings and insulation Weber (manufacturer) case study
- Cladding tested and found safe Newcastle Chronicle article 29th June 2017
- Unsafe cladding on student blocks Newcastle Chronicle article 1st August 2017
- Chronicle What price life? campaign [26th June 2017]
- Your Homes Newcastle https://www.yhn.org.uk/
- Tyne and Wear Homes https://www.tyneandwearhomes.org.uk/
- Energi heating solution http://www.vitalenergi.co.uk/casestudies/riverside-dene/
- Oasis cafe community room https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/news-story/community-facility-brought-back-life
Regenerating the West End of the city
The revamp is part of a wider regeneration of the whole of the West End, with money being spent on landscaping and local shopping areas. Elswick Park and Elswick Pool have been refurbished to provide better community facilities. Excelsior Academy opened in September 2008, replacing Westgate Community College, and provides a specialist education for pupils from primary to sixth form college. New affordable homes are being built in Scotswood at The Rise (a £265 million project in phases over 15 years, to provide 1,800 homes and open space). The Discovery Quarter is an area of change with the development of the new Science Central on the former brewery site. Some of the remaining terraced houses have been restored and modernised, such as at Ashfield Close. There have also been efforts to improve the environment more generally to make better use of small areas of open land. As the city council put it on their website:
“Where we live is important to everyone. We all want to be proud of where we live and live somewhere that is free from crime and the fear of crime. Elswick Discovery Quarter is made up of a number of small neighbourhoods each with their own clear identity and issues. We want to work with people to make sure this is recognised in how we work with our partners. We would like to see local people supported and encouraged to enjoy the neighbourhood and street they live in and make use of the open spaces and small pockets of land.” Source no longer available [ http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/planning-and-buildings/regeneration/elswick-our-work ]
- Affordable homes in Scotswood’s £265m redevelopment – The Rise (Nov 2013 – archived) http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140805133148/http://www.homesandcommunities.co.uk/news/start-1800-new-homes-scotswood
- Barratt Homes – The Rise https://www.barratthomes.co.uk/new-homes/tyne—wear/H672701-The-Rise/
- The Rise is featured in the 2017 GVA report The Changing Face of Newcastle
- Benwell Scotswood Area Action Plan (adopted 2009) https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/planning-and-buildings/regeneration/benwell-scotswood-area-action-plan
- Action plan document (Nov 2009 pdf with maps) https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/wwwfileroot/legacy/regen/ldf/BSAAPWholedocwithmaps.pdf
- Centre West charity (set up when the New Deal for the Communities ended in 2010) http://www.centre-west.com/
- The Beacon enterprise hub (opened 2012) http://www.thebeaconnewcastle.co.uk/about-us-2/
- Scotwood’s proposed £3m River View development Evening Chronicle June 2014
- Excelsior Academy http://excelsiornewcastle.org.uk/
- Newcastle Science Central http://www.newcastlesciencecentral.com/
- Newcastle University Science Central page http://www.ncl.ac.uk/sciencecentral/about/
- Science Central is featured in the 2017 GVA report The Changing Face of Newcastle
- Science Central Newcastle Chronicle report (Feb 2017).
Seeking Asylum: Newcastle council had a Home Office contract to provide for people who applied for asylum from 1999 to May 2011. Many were housed in the West End while others were found homes in areas like Byker and Walker. See: Seeking Asylum