Is Berwick changing for the Better?

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Reproduced from the Berwick Civic Society Summer Newsletter: download copy

We regularly hear grumbles from those who are convinced that Berwick has declined from a previous golden age of bustling prosperity; they are convinced that nothing much happens except decline. In fact, Berwick continues to change a lot more than people might think. Gilbert O’Brien, Honorary Archivist of The Georgian Group and a member of our Planning and Development Committee, recently shared photographs of Berwick from the 1990s. Many parts of the town were completely recognisable but much has changed, as in the following examples: the bus station has long since left the town centre, replaced by infill developments on Marygate and on Walkergate; whatever one’s view of the Governor’s Gardens development, it has tidied up an underused site next to the Town Walls; Greaves West and Ayre have moved to modern offices on Walkergate; several trade counters have moved out of town enabling the redevelopment of rundown buildings in the heart of the Conservation Area; Maden Eco Homes redeveloped the former meeting house on Chapel Street formerly occupied by
City Electrical Factors; the bland Pets at Home building replaced Tweedmouth Coop, a far from universally popular change; there are many more.

Nor has investment dried up despite the recent pandemic. We’ve had a good run in the last four years: Berwick has attracted major investment from a range of funders. We will soon have a new hospital and a new sports and leisure centre. Our arts centre, The Maltings, which has served a very wide catchment area for thirty years, has worked with Northumberland County Council to secure Borderlands funding, an innovative cross-border public investment initiative. This will largely enable the redevelopment and enlargement of the main Maltings building.

Berwick, Tweedmouth and Spittal have a lot to recommend them with three Conservation Areas in a dramatic setting where the Tweed meets the beautiful Northumberland Coast but we still have

  • Berwick has some of the lowest pay rates in the country. About 40% of employees earn less than the real living wage.
  • A great many of our holidaymakers are also from low-income households which limits the town’s income from tourism.
  • Berwick has lost a lot of jobs; we urgently need more jobs that are higher skilled and better paid.
  • House prices are rising, partly as a result of holiday homes but also from inward migration.
  • At the same time there is a growing shortage of houses to buy and to rent.
  • Retailing is a problem too: some of the shops on Marygate, our high street, have been vacant more than 5 years.
  • The town centre looks tired and jaded.

The Civic Society recognises the need for further regeneration in Berwick and believes that this could be promoted through a 3-D digital model of our town. We have been working with Digital Urban, a specialist in 3-D urban data modelling. They used seed funding and satellite data provided by the European Space Agency, as well as investing quite a bit of their own time. The Civic Society is collaborating with Better Berwick, a relatively new organisation that is an alliance of the public and the private sectors. Better Berwick sees the value of a 3-D digital model to promote regeneration and to attract more investment; it has already secured a small grant to improve the model from the Local Enterprise Partnership. We hope to tell you more in our next newsletter.

Brian Gowthorpe, Chair
Planning & Development Comm