*Newsflash! Gateshead has also today been featured in an article as Britain’s fat capital. Damn it Gateshead. Get it together*
“If there is any town of like size on the continent of Europe that can show a similar lack of civic dignity and all the evidence of an urban civilisation, I should like to know its name and quality. No true civilisation could have produced such a town, which is nothing better than a huge dingy dormitory.”
So said JB Priestly back in 1934. He added for good measure that Gateshead appeared to have “been designed by an enemy of the human race.”
Now we look back on 1934 as a better era. The Depression might have done all it could to live up to its name, and closed dozens of local factories – but at least people then had jobs to lose. When the current recession came around we barely noticed. It’s hard to go down when you’re already on the floor.
In 2007, when everyone else was enjoying the late stages of the New Labour boom, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle gleefully reported: “Bulldozers are due to start the demolition of Gateshead town centre today.” That’s how bad it had got. Most of the centre actually consisted of the (then) worst building in the UK, the brutal giant Trinity Centre car park and shopping centre – better known as the Get Carter Carter Park. It has a starring role in the Michael Caine film as the fucking ugly place from the top of which Caine threw the corrupt local businessman Cliff Brumby. It was chosen by the filmmakers because it was falling down and awful back in 1971. But it lingered on another 40 years, mouldering, rotting, stinking up the skyline, symbolising our decline. Some people even came to quite like it.
And now it’s gone (the remains sold off in commemorative tins for £5 each), you’d think we might be pleased. But what have they put up in place of this massive folly? How have they learned from the mistakes of the past? To what end have the powers that be in Gateshead used this golden opportunity to regenerate the centre and do something new and interesting for the town? That’s right. They’ve built another car park and mall.
The only difference is that this time the great ugly box is dominated by a gigantic Tesco – just to ensure that the last few locally owned businesses are driven even deeper into the ground. Clearly, the enemies of the human race are still pushing all the buttons round here.