Coals to Newcastle, bikes to Gateshead

“I abhor the Barrattification of Britain, this defacing of green and brownfield sites by identikit boxes…Let’s plan new-builds with variation, greenery, ecology and community in mind.”
The Independent, April 2001

Following the publication of this article, property development company George Wimpey called Wayne Hemingway’s bluff. Would he and his wife Gerardine, the other half of iconic 1980s clothing brand Red or Dead, help design a new housing development in Gateshead?

The Staiths South Bank was the result. It’s Britain’s biggest HomeZone and it now has a bike pool facility for residents.

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HomeZones aim to promote a more balanced relationship between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. Rather than prioritising cars, they encourage environments where the spaces between the houses are safe for children to play and for adults to meet their neighbours.

Phase one of the Staiths South Bank development was completed in April 2005. The whole scheme to house over 2,000 is projected to be finished in 2010. The 526-metre wooden Staiths on the river Tyne form a scenic backdrop to the development. Built in 1890 the Dunston Staiths were used for coal loading until 1980.

The 40-acre site will eventually contain 750 homes. It has a wide variety of homes including townhouses, apartments and semi detached houses. The buildings are finished in a range of materials including coloured render, brick, cedar wood cladding and Scandinavian tiling. Bins – and cars – are screened with wicker fences. There are ‘pocket parks’, communal barbeques, colourful children’s play areas and concreted-in outdoor table-tennis tables.

There’s a cycle route in front of the Staiths. This goes to Newcastle city centre along a flat riverside route. It’s blocked in the other direction but eventually there will be a cycle route to Europe’s largest mall, the MetroCentre.

It’s easy to reach the city centre by car from the Staiths South Bank, but even easier by bike. It’s a five minute cycle ride to the iconic Tyneside attactions such as the Baltic arts centre, the Sage and the Tyne bridge. The opening of the Gateshead ‘blinking eye’ Millennium Bridge has seen an additional 94,000 trips per year being generated between Gateshead and Newcastle, an increase of 186 per cent. Parking on the Quayside is limited.

George Wimpey North East is hoping to boost the number of residents who cycle with the introduction of the Cycle@Staiths Initiative, launched on Wednesday by Hemingway. This is a pool of ten bikes for residents’ use. The bikes are free to use. Every household has also been supplied with a £57.50 Halfords voucher to spend on bike kit.

Hemingway, a patron of Sustrans, said:

“We hope that the Cycle@Staiths scheme will be well used by residents. From the start of the development a lot of thought has been given to various ways to reduce the impact of cars and increase use of more sustainable methods of transport. Cycling is the most direct route to NewcastleGateshead but also a fantastic way to explore the local area and beyond and keep fit too. Many of the things we have introduced here at Staiths South Bank are firsts for the region and for volume housebuilders.”

Want your own piece of Hemingway design? Try the Shack-up bike shed. This is lower than a garden shed, can hold four bikes and there’s a compartment for garden equipment or bike stuff. And want a Hemingway bike to put in the shed? Try the soon-to-launch Road Runner folding bike. It will retail for under £100. Hemingway admits it’s no rival to a Brompton (he’s a Brompton rider) or a Dahon but it’s cheap enough to give away to residents of social housing schemes.