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Wimpey Red or Dead dream threatened by rival bidder

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Wimpey's plans for a £70 million residential scheme by Red or Dead fashion designers Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway were attacked this week by a rival bidder for the site, writes Steven Palmer.

Developer North Eastern Railway has lodged an outline planning application with Gateshead council for the same 16ha site at Staiths South Bank, Gateshead. The derelict site, last used for the 1990 Garden Festival, came to light when Wimpey said it wanted to build 688 affordable homes designed by the Hemingways (AJ 15.11.01).

The rival bid is for a £55 million leisure and commercial development, the brainchild of businessman Crake Simpson, managing director of North Eastern Railway. The plan includes a 'Tyneside version of the London Eye' and leisure and recreation facilities, including a hotel, health club, retail, restaurants, office space, car parking and a wildlife and nature sanctuary.

Simpson claims the development will bring 2,500 jobs to the area and draw 150,000 visitors to Tyneside every year. However, Simpson's scheme has already experienced a hiccup. The centrepiece ofthe project was originally listed as a railway heritage and education centre, linked to the National Railway Museum in York. This was subsequently denied by the Museum.

Robert Schopen, spokesman for the Gateshead planning department, confirmed that both parties had lodged applications. 'The site is allocated for job creation, so it's more for commercial or light industrial use. Neither match those requirements exactly, although one could be said to be more in line than the other.'

Richard Simpson, spokesman for North Eastern Railway, said: 'Overall we are positive, our scheme fits the planning designation better' - although he conceded that one possible scenario was that both schemes could be given permission and 'then it would be up to McAlpine, the landowner, to decide'.

However, as the AJ went to press, Kevan Carrick, director of Storey Sons and Parker, agent advising the Sir Robert McAlpine Group, said: 'We must treat [Simpson's] approach as rather mischievous and time-wasting.'

Wimpey said that it had an agreement to buy the site from the McAlpine Group, although the deal expires in March 2002.

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