The Chief Executive of city marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative tells CN that long-held plans to build a convention centre on the banks of the Tyne will not be abandoned, despite the latest (£19.5m) bid to the Government’s Local Growth Fund being rejected last week.
The North East International Convention Centre (NEICC) planned for the Gateshead Quays will still be championed as a major asset that could inject up to £26m-a-year into the regional economy, although the latest rejection of the funding bid was described by the agency as “disappointing”.
Local MP Dave Anderson describes the Local Growth Fund decision not to provide funding as a “hammer blow” for the region. “The potential of a conference centre is massive in our part of the world as has been shown when The Sage has been used as a conference venue,” the MP says.
The NEICC is planned for The Sage Gateshead’s south car park, and backers promise it will bring 75 extra conferences and 60 extra music events to the region each year, as well as creating hundreds of jobs.
The hotel trade in the city is developing rapidly, but hopes to rival the conference and events sectors built up in Manchester and Liverpool now face a considerable setback.
“The paltry crumbs that are now on offer via the Regional Growth Fund are simply inadequate for the needs of regions like ours,” Anderson adds.
The convention centre plan was initially on the table several years ago, only to fall victim of the closure of regional development agency One North East and subsequently by the scrapping of Tyneside development company 1NG.
Gateshead Council had also bid unsuccessfully for the project in the Government’s Regional Growth Fund.
Following a revision of the original £80m centre in 2012, it was hoped Arts Council money would underpin the plan, but more cash is needed.
Sarah Stewart, Chief Executive at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, speaking exclusively to CN, says: “There is an ambition to build a convention centre in NewcastleGateshead and a number of plans have been considered over the years.
“Following the announcement of the Local Growth Fund, we led the development of a new business case for a North East International Convention Centre (NEICC) on Gateshead Quays, working in partnership with Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, Sage Gateshead and Ryder Architecture. A bid for £19.5m, to support the £30m capital costs for the NEICC, was subsequently included as part of the North East Local Growth Fund bid to Government. The monies would have helped to lever the remaining capital required.
“Making use of learnings from previous convention centre plans, the project team used a range of knowledge and expertise to develop a new proposal for the NEICC which would be built as a stand-alone building located on Gateshead Quays, with a physical link to the existing Sage Gateshead. It would also provide much needed flat floor exhibition space.
“Whilst NewcastleGateshead already punches above its weight as a conference destination, the proposed NEICC would enable us to attract a much wider range of large-scale conferences – boosting business visitor numbers, delegate spend and economic impact for the region.
“We were obviously very disappointed that the NEICC did not receive support as part of the LGF deal and would like to thank all our partners who worked so hard to develop the bid within a very tight timescale. We’re awaiting detailed feedback on the reasons for the decision from BIS. Meanwhile, the project remains a key ambition and we will continue to develop plans with a view to ensuring the NEICC is well placed should further funding opportunities be identified.”
Catering and event company Sodexo Prestige, meanwhile, has launched what it calls “a trio of Tyneside treats for delegates” for 2015.
For three months, from 1 January to 31 March, Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events is inviting companies to hold their conferences and events at three of its North East venues for a flat day hire rate of £300 + VAT.
The venues are Newcastle’s Discovery Museum, the Laing Art Gallery and the Great North Museum: Hancock.
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