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AHRC Network: The Future of the City Centre


Northumbria University

AHRC Network: The Future of the City Centre

City Centres are on the point of dramatic change. The demand for commercial building has tumbled and there is an image of empty shops and abandoned space within modern cities but the city centre still offers and attracts domestic and international investment.

Locally, both Newcastle and Gateshead city centres have seen recent transformations. Retail outlets are closing and the development to meet demand for modern student accommodation in both listed buildings and on purpose built sites has grown. However, the attractiveness of these centres continues to encourage inward investment, some example being the development of Newcastle Helix, the recent redevelopment of Gateshead city centre, and the planned development of Gateshead Quays.

This event will explore these changes and ask the questions, who should the city centre be for, and what should happen there?

The event is free to attend. If you work or live in a city centre, represent local government, businesses or communities or if you just have an interest in cities, please join the symposium at Northumbria University, and have your say in shaping the Future of the City Centre.


As the 20th Century unfolded, cities in the developed world evolved from an industrial base into commercial activity.  However, the world recession from 2009, exposed the underlying trend that electronic systems were changing demand for city space once more.  The need for city centre offices fell, as increasingly flexible working patterns fuelled by the wireless revolution, generated places of work in cyberspace.  Much as the early 20th Century pioneers had done, urbanists in the 21st Century were starting to look around them and ask – What is a City for?  The theoretical perspectives will involve the past and present but the focus will be on the future.  The emphasis will be visions for the post-commercial and retail city. This theme and the related sub-topics will enable the development of future city models and will help to contextualise urban change. 


This international research network will host 4 symposia over 24 months. They will take place in four different continents to encompass a world view of developed and developing countries.  Each symposium will include selected speakers who will be asked to prepare position papers to establish the context for debates on the Future of the City Centre.  Speakers will represent local government, non-government organisations, businesses and communities.  The outcome will be possible scenarios that may be formed into multi-disciplinary policies.  The first symposium will take place at Northumbria University in September 2018.  

Project Partners

  • Professor Bob Giddings Northumbria University – Principal Investigator
  • Dr Robert Rogerson University of Strathclyde – Co-Investigator
  • Dr Marcus Jefferies University of Newcastle, Australia – International Partner
  • Professor PD Rwelamila University of South Africa – International Partner
  • Professor Geovany Silva Federal University of Paraiba, Brazil – International Partner


The symposium is organised into four sessions over two days to enable flexibility of attendance.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

  • 09.15: Welcome by Lucy Winskell OBE, Northumbria University, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Employability and Partnerships)

  • 10.00 - 13.00: Session 1, Gateshead and Newcastle Councils

  • 14.00 - 17.00: Session 2, NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI)

Wednesday 12 September 2018

  • 10.00 - 13.00: Session 3, NE1

  • 14.00 - 17.00: Session 4, Shelter

Symposium Content

The aim of this symposium is to explore how the city centres of Newcastle, Gateshead and adjacent cities are addressing contemporary challenges and visions for the future. The sessions will be led by key participants, each offering perspectives on the future challenges and opportunities.  These will address the economic, social, environmental and political dimensions of the city centre, and each contribution is designed to provoke debate about the future.

Session 1: Gateshead and Newcastle Councils

The first session will be led by Gateshead and Newcastle Councils and will focus on how the structures of politics and governance in the UK contribute to the city centre, and the role local government can have in helping to shape its future. A number of significant challenges and opportunities, which could impact on achieving the Councils’ vision for the city centre will be outlined and these will form the basis for roundtable debates amongst all the delegates attending the session. 

Two initial questions could be:

  • What is the guiding vision currently used to assist in the development of the city centre, including response to internal and external influences? How has this been constructed and agreed, and how is it being interpreted?
  • What instruments and forms of governance are evolving to guide, support and deliver visions for the future?

Session 2: NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI)

This session is led by Newcastle Gateshead Initiative (NGI), a public private partnership supported by Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, and over 170 private sector partner organisations across North East England. For over 15 years, the organisation has established a strong track record of successful delivery and as a result has grown both its partnership base and portfolio of work – all with the aim of creating a supportive environment for wider economic development. NGI play a central role in promoting the twin cities of Newcastle and Gateshead as a place to visit, live, learn, work, study and invest. Contributions to the discussion will be made by private sector partners involved in city centres, exploring how they will viewed as a destination in the future.

  • The pivotal role of city centres as part of the wider destination portfolio. 
  • How does the vibrant city centre play a vital contribution in attracting inward investment and leisure tourism, as well as bidding to host major business, sporting and cultural events?

Session 3: NE1

The economic imperative of the city centre and the recent pressures on its economic viability will be at the forefront of the third session.  As an award-winning business improvement company, NE1 is viewed nationally and internationally as an example of best practice. In this session, its vision of the future for Newcastle City Centre will be outlined, together with pathways to deliver the vision, and examples of how challenges are being overcome or bypassed. Using these examples, the session will engage with all delegates in workshop groups to help identify what is unique about Newcastle City Centre and what resonates with other city experiences.

  • What are the key functions and activities within the contemporary city centre and what change in activity is expected and being planned for the future?
  • For whom is the city centre being planned, and which communities could occupy the centre? Who are the main stakeholders involved and what are their anticipated roles in the shaping the future?

Session 4: Shelter

The final session will emphasise the city centre as a social and liveable space.  At the heart of the housing crisis in England is a long-term failure to build enough homes. The barriers that prevent us building homes, and particularly affordable homes, are the same barriers that impact on the quality and design of the homes that are built; and also on the ability of local areas to deliver well planned development that provides community benefit. Shelter’s work on housing supply and how this can be improved is not exclusive to city centres, but provides a valuable insight into the potential limitations of our current planning and housing sectors in addressing homelessness, the housing crisis and wider issues.

The breakout groups will explore how the city centre is changing - who is benefitting, and who is being excluded or marginalised. Outlining the impact of these changes, an alternative vision as a more inclusive and socially just space will be debated, and what might be required to achieve it.

  • What is the focus of human activity in the city centre? Why are people attracted there and who is not represented or alienated?
  • For whom is the city centre being planned, and which communities could occupy the centre? Who are the key stakeholders involved and what are their anticipated roles within the shaping of the future of the city centre?

Breakout group discussions for each session will include a facilitator to help guide the debate. The aim of each session is to welcome insights from other cities to help support the symposium to identify shared issues as well as those particular to Newcastle and Gateshead.  Each group will be invited to feedback their deliberations to a plenary at the end of the session. 

Use the online booking facility to register for the sessions that you want to attend. 


Event Details

Northumbria University
The Great Hall
Sutherland Building
Newcastle upon Tyne


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