'Feud' keeps gay Geordies waiting to get out on the Toon

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The Independent Online

It was to have been the Pink Triangle - an area of the North-east where gay Geordies could congregate in peace. The city council had given it the thumbs-up; local traders were enthusiastic; nothing could stop Newcastle from getting its very own gay village.

It was to have been the Pink Triangle - an area of the North-east where gay Geordies could congregate in peace. The city council had given it the thumbs-up; local traders were enthusiastic; nothing could stop Newcastle from getting its very own gay village.

That was a year ago. Today the city is as straight as ever. Newcastle's gay entrepreneurs have fallen out and the only sound in Waterloo Street, the proposed location for the village, is that of axes grinding.

Trafalgar Leisure, owners of the city's biggest gay club, the Power House, have objected strenuously to the opening of rival bars and nightclubs in the designated zone. Fearing commercial competition that could hit their profits, they have successfully deterred rivals from opening in the area.

It had been hoped that a smart new gay district, next to the Centre for Life, a £29m project intended to increase public awareness of genetics, would complete the regeneration of a once forlorn inner borough. Instead, gays and lesbians are being edged out.

Ten years ago, Rockshots in Waterloo Street was the biggest and best-known gay club in Newcastle, attracting visitors from across the north of England. It had a reputation for putting on high-quality cabaret. Today, it is just another straight club.

The Bigg Market and Quayside area, around half a mile away from the gay quarter, are so successful that they helped to earn Newcastle an international reputation as a party city. It is estimated that each weekend around 80,000 revellers come into the city. There are 160 pubs, 125 restaurants and 16 nightclubs in an area of one square mile.

By contrast, the gay quarter has one nightclub and six bars. The area has only a handful of restaurants, none of which are gay and none of which could be described as top class.

One the biggest and best-known straight companies is Ultimate Leisure. Recognising the potential of the Pink Triangle, it approached John Harrison, a gay entrepreneur, with plans to open a £2.3m high-quality venue in an old Victorian warehouse and lighting centre in Waterloo Street.

The 1,000-capacity club was to have a restaurant on the top floor, as well as a 2am licence and cabaret.

Mr Harrison had already tried to turn a warehouse in nearby George Street into a £1.5m club. He failed when Trafalgar Leisure first objected to his licence and then bought the premises themselves.

That building is still empty. Trafalgar has since bought another warehouse in nearby Westmorland Road, which is destined to be turned into a £2m café-bar called Out.

Mr Harrison was further frustrated when plans he and Ultimate Leisure put through to develop the old lighting centre faced objections from some local residents - and Trafalgar Leisure. Planning permission was refused, and, according to Mr Harrison, Trafalgar is mainly to blame.

"It's been an uphill battle all the time. They have prevented me from doing anything," he said. "They know that if another operator comes in, they'll provide a better quality venue. They are only looking after their own interest. They aren't looking out for the gay scene at all. I'm fed up with not being able to go out to good-quality gay venues. If I want to go out, I go down to Leeds or London. That's how far down the ladder Newcastle has slipped."

Trafalgar's managing director, Sam Hamadi, denies his company is holding back development of the Pink Triangle. He says he is merely trying to protect his business.

Mr Hamadi fears that, when the Power House is demolished as part of the development and Trafalgar tries to open a new club, his company could face objections if there are too many rivals.

"We do want other operators in the market," he said. "It will make it better. However, this application from Ultimate Leisure comes at a bad time for us because we have to protect our own position."

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