By Damiano Rea. Managing Director, Heaton Property Ltd
It is always nice to see an area of town enjoy a bit of a renaissance, especially if you live and work there. For too long Heaton in Newcastle upon Tyne has been overshadowed by its glamorous sisters, Jesmond and Gosforth but of late the area has emerged with its own distinct style and vibrant atmosphere. Far from being an area of faded Victorian elegance, Heaton is fast becoming first choice for students and young professionals who appreciate the diversity of local shops, restaurants and other amenities.
All this begs the question, which came first? The hip, young population or the quirky local shops they frequent? My guess is a bit of both with the availability of quality lettings being a significant factor. If the vibe on the streets is not convincing enough, the arrival of big retailers led by Tesco and Sainsbury’s makes the assumption that Heaton is on the up a cast iron certainty. These multiples do not choose their location on a whim, rather on the basis of painstaking research into their target market.
And a glance at the shelves in these new supermarket outlets reveals a lot about the results of their research. These are not the huge out of town sheds which sell everything including the kitchen sink. Rather they are smaller, almost boutique supermarkets whose offer is aimed squarely at young people with busy lifestyles and disposable income. They are high on prepared food, ready meals, deli items and of course wines and beers.
While the big multiples have been accused of killing our high streets, the effect of their smaller boutique operations actually enhances street life and encourages local trade. Shoppers stopping off for their ready Pizzas and bottle of red may well also stop at a classic clothing store, a local gym or simply grab a cup of coffee and a cake. While it is true that the traditional butcher, baker and greengrocer have largely fallen victim to the big multiples, in Heaton their place has been taken by entrepreneurial young traders offering the goods and services the local community wants to buy. Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas could learn a lot from Heaton.
While good shops, restaurants and other retail businesses are essential to an areas resurgence, Heaton has more to offer than simply shopping. With excellent transport connections residents can be in town within minutes. And the refurbishment of Heaton Park means this lovely green space is used by more people than ever before. From our office on Heaton Road it is possible to walk to the Quayside through Armstrong Park, Heaton Park, City Stadium then down the Ouseburn. The only way you know you are in a city centre is when you have to cross Ouseburn Road and Warwick Street.
The emergence of Heaton as a vibrant place to live has provided opportunity for landlords since the multiple occupancy student bedsits of yore are now history, due in part to the new student accommodation blocks near the universities. Our project management team is currently flat out arranging for the conversion of lovely old Heaton houses from slightly run down student lets into homes any of us would be happy to live in.
A typical spend of £150,000 including refurbishment and furnishing to a high standard will see a yield of 12% plus after mortgage payment and management fees. Our Pro-Share Plus scheme which brings together young professionals to take on a larger property means we frequently have the home fully let before building work is completed. This represents a good return on investment and another home for people who will make a positive contribution to the local economy and culture.
All good news for Heaton but are there lessons to be learned for other areas in need of an economic and cultural boost? Perhaps. Heaton has a number of advantages – the availability of quality housing stock and homes suitable for refurbishment to a high standard. It has two vibrant high streets in Heaton Road and Chillingham Road with affordable rents suitable for entrepreneurial start-ups.
A significant factor in an areas renewal is the availability of parking for our mobile lifestyle. Shops in Jesmond have long bemoaned the lack of parking with Acorn Road becoming practically a no go zone on Saturdays. In Heaton the parking issue is less of a problem since there is room for residents and visitors alike.
While the private sector is a major contributor to the regeneration of an area like Heaton through landlords and entrepreneurial traders investing to make the area work, the Council also has a role to play. Recently we have been talking to the Council about such issues as the problem of fly tipping and it seems we are making progress. Consultation and open discussion is the way forward if we are to build upon recent success in Heaton and jointly learn any lessons which may be applied to other areas of our city. Everybody, residents, landlords, lettings agencies and the authorities want to see the same outcomes – vibrant, sustainable communities supporting local businesses and reflecting well upon our great city. Perhaps together we can make it happen beyond the boundaries of Heaton?