New conference extension project in Gateshead not viable, says Council

Gateshead Council and North Music Trust have decided to withdraw their Arts Council England funding application to develop enhanced conference, exhibition and music facilities at Sage Gateshead. The move followed a detailed review of a project that has been part of a long-standing ambition to grow the conference, exhibition and music events economies to benefit Sage Gateshead and the wider region, as well as contributing to the development of Gateshead Quays.

Ahead of a further application to Arts Council England (ACE) to lever £10m towards the £30m project, Gateshead Council and the charitable North Music Trust have worked together to explore the project’s economic viability after achieving approval to proceed with the application at the first stage.

An economic and market review into the project found that financing the construction costs of the large-scale facilities would outweigh the benefits provided by an additional 3,000sqm exhibition and events centre. The conclusion was that the project was not viable at this time.

Leader of Gateshead Council, Mick Henry, said: “It was important that we thoroughly tested the deliverability of such a major and complex project. We have to be realistic, that in the current economic climate it would not be prudent to go ahead with this project. While disappointed, we believe this is the right decision.

Recent regeneration in Gateshead has significantly improved our offer in this market and has already injected millions of pounds into the local and regional economy as a result.

“Sage Gateshead has firmly established itself as an international venue that attracts world-class conferences. Our shared vision remains and I’m confident it will be realised in the future.”

Anthony Sargent, General Director of Sage Gateshead, said: “We are all disappointed that the current economic conditions have prevented the realisation of this project at this time. Since we opened our doors nearly 10 years ago we’ve built an acclaimed international reputation both for our music programming and as a venue for major, high profile conferences. These new facilities would have been a tremendous boost to Sage Gateshead, building on our reputation and success we’ve already achieved. However, all the work done on the project confirms the regional, national and international demand for these expanded facilities. We all hope that in a different economic climate the region will one day have the benefit of these new facilities to extend Sage Gateshead’s offer.”

Sage Gateshead is a key venue in the North East, having hosted all three of England’s major political parties and large conferences including the British Council of Shopping Centres.

Sarah Stewart, Chief Executive of Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, (pictured) added: “After working with Gateshead Council and Sage Gateshead on this proposal we are disappointed that it is not going ahead but are confident we can continue to attract major conferences that bring huge benefits to our local economy and profile. Just this week 600 people from 33 different countries have been at the 12th International Colour Conference – bringing an estimated £1.1m to the local economy. We will also continue to work with partners to further improve our offer and attract future major events and conferences.”

Sarah Maxfield, Arts Council England’s Area Director for the North, responding to the decision, said: “This was a bold and ambitious project in what is the continuing regeneration of Tyneside. We appreciate that this was a difficult decision for Gateshead Council and North Music Trust to make but we give them credit for recognising that the conditions are not right for this major development.

“Capital funding is a unique process with significantly higher levels of risk. Our two-stage application process for this investment programme allows both applicants and us to be sure that proposed projects are financially viable and sustainable in the longer term before significant levels of funding are awarded. We will continue to work with both partners on cultural ambitions and to support Sage Gateshead as a major cultural institution.”

The meetings and events industry is worth £411m Gross Value Added to North East England’s economy, according to The Economic Impact of the UK Meeting & Events Industry released at The Meetings Show UK by the MPI Foundation, 10 July, and based on data from 2011.

Any conference-related news? Email pcolston@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

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Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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