A major redevelopment at Newcastle’s flagship shopping centre has been given the green light by city council planners.

The £65 million proposals for Eldon Square will bring new leisure, culture and dining facilities to Newcastle City Centre. It is hoped the changes will attract new visitors, bring millions into the city’s economy and create hundreds of jobs.

Under the proposals, two new cultural, food and drink, sport, leisure and entertainment venues will be added to Eldon Square. The first – set to take up the vacant top floor of the former Debenhams department store – will blend food, socialising, art, cultural entertainment and music performance.

The second will be based across part of the centre including the vacant former Eldon Leisure Centre, with a national operator hoping to bring indoor sports and entertainment aimed at families, with an “amusement centre” and indoor motorised electric go-karting.

The proposals, first revealed in December, were brought forward after the closure of big-name retailers including Debenhams left thousands of square feet in the shopping centre empty.

At Friday’s planning meeting, planning officers blamed the increase in vacant lots on changes in shopping habits accelerated by the Covid pandemic. Some 200,000 square foot of units in Eldon Square are currently standing empty.

The Northern Echo: CGI showing how the Eldon Square redevelopment will look with a new rooftop terrace.CGI showing how the Eldon Square redevelopment will look with a new rooftop terrace. (Image: LDRS)

Councillors were told that the plans for the former Debenhams site would create 350 new jobs, bring in £11.24 million into the city’s economy and attract an additional 780,000 visitors. The Eldon Leisure plans are expected to create a further 210 jobs and bring in £8.84 million to the local economy.

Councillors voted unanimously to approve the proposals. Cllr Paula Maines said: “I’m just delighted that there’s going to be a live music venue. I think it’s great to have one very much bang in the city centre.”

Cllr Barry Phillipson continued: “I do welcome the boost to the council’s economy and the creation of more than 350 jobs. This is a massive boost for the city.

“I look forward to this coming on board. In the future we may see a budding Geordie Lewis Hamilton coming through!”

And Liberal Democrat councillor Henry Gallagher added: “I think it is an excellent application to bring all of this back into use. It is going to create a lot of jobs – lets get on with it.”

Speaking after the meeting, the city council’s director of growth and investment, Michelle Percy, said: “The council’s vision for Newcastle city centre is a place that is economically strong, inclusive, and sustainable in which residents can be proud.

“Since the pandemic and changes to retail, city centres have been on a journey of evolution. To survive they have had to adapt to changing consumer trends and offer more than retail to remain relevant to residents and visitors.

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“This £65m of new investment in Eldon Square is proof of the diversification of the city centre providing a boost to culture, leisure and entertainment offering live music, dance, and performances.

“It’s the fruit of effective public/private partnerships which are emerging in a range of other improvement schemes in the city centre such as Grainger Market, Grey Street and Northumberland Street that are creating a sense of place where everyone can feel welcome and included.”

Work is expected to start on the scheme “immediately”.