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ICONIC ASSET: What comes next for the Tyne Bridge?

ICONIC ASSET: What comes next for the Tyne Bridge?

Rust on the Tyne Bridge, Newcastle, Image: NCJ Media

Rusted, decaying, and still without any money for a long-overdue restoration, now what comes next for the Tyne Bridge?

The joy at nearly £40m of government Levelling Up cash being given to Newcastle last week was tinged with no little disappointment, as arguably the city’s most iconic asset missed out.

While Chancellor Rishi Sunak backed bids to build a new leisure centre in West Denton and refurbish both Old Eldon Square and the Grainger Market, a much-needed facelift for the famous crossing is no closer to becoming a reality.

An £18.5m bid to the Levelling Up Fund for a complete refurbishment of the grade II listed structure was one of four lodged by Newcastle City Council, and came with the backing of MPs and other political leaders from across the region.

But after seeing it fail to win funding last week, city transport chiefs are now left to pursue other avenues if they are to get the landmark restored to its former glory before its centenary in 2028.

 

Why did the Tyne Bridge not win funding last week?

While the news that the bridge was not included among more than 100 projects given Levelling Up money last week was disappointing, it is not thought to have come as a shock to civic centre officials.

Since the bid was announced in June, it was known that the city council did not see the Levelling Up Fund as the most appropriate source of funding for the major maintenance works, with it being lodged as a reminder to the government of the urgent need for the Tyne Bridge to be refurbished and to offer ministers an alternative way of paying for it.

 

So, where else could the money come from?

There is another, bigger bid still outstanding, a £40m request from 2019 that covers both the bridge’s restoration and works along the entire length of the Central Motorway.

That was one of 12 schemes put forward by Transport for the North to the Department for Transport’s Major Road Network fund more than two years ago and, despite the delay, is still seen as the most likely source of the required money.

The DfT said it was in “continued discussions” with the city council, which confirmed it had submitted a business case in June and was now providing revised modelling data to support the bid.

Council leader Nick Forbes said that the desire to restore the bridge was “undiminished” and that local bosses “still have irons in the fire”.

He added: “We are hoping for further progress in our discussions with the Department for Transport in the near future, in order to secure this much-need funding. We also want to ensure we can hit the ground running if this bid is successful, which is why we are starting the process now to find potential delivery partners.

“We remain fully committed to preserving the bridge for future generations and seeing it shine proudly again against Newcastle’s skyline, particularly with its centenary fast approaching.”

Another option would be to re-apply to the Levelling Up Fund for a next round of funding allocations in the spring, with the government having confirmed that bids that were unsuccessful last week would have to be resubmitted in order to be considered again.

Cash-strapped Newcastle and Gateshead councils, which jointly own the bridge and manage its upkeep, say they cannot afford to pay for the works themselves, though Newcastle had offered to put in around £2m to supplement the Levelling Up bid, had it been successful.

 

What work needs doing?

Major maintenance of the bridge was last undertaken between 1999 and 2001 and was expected to last 18 to 20 years, meaning it is now overdue.

A three-year programme of upgrades is expected to include its repainting, resurfacing the road, steelwork and concrete repairs, stonework and masonry fixes, waterproofing, and bridge joint replacement, and more.

 

What happens if the Tyne Bridge can’t be refurbished?

If money cannot be found to pay for the maintenance, the consequences could be severe, and not just limited to one of the great symbols of the North East being left to degrade further into an embarrassing state of rust and decay.

On top of the aesthetic problems obvious to anyone who has seen the bridge lately, a failure to complete the long list of structural fixes needed could force major changes in how it is used.

More than 70,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day, but it simply won’t be able to take that weight for too much longer without the repairs.

That could mean that restrictions would have to be imposed on its use, with Coun Forbes having suggested previously that authorities might have to “take the bridge out of action for cars” and turn it into a bus lane.

 

Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter


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