Changing the landscape

Interesting to see, as the New Wear Crossing construction project moves into its final months, how the landscape is visually changing and the impact the new bridge is making. Before work began at this site, the area had no real points of interest apart from the wreck of a concrete boat called the ‘Cretehauser’ (yes, that’s right, a boat made of concrete!) and a geological feature called Claxheugh Rock.

A board walk section of the riverside cycle path and walkway looking west upstream on the River Wear. Old 18th and 19th century buildings and industrial heritage are largely gone. On the south bank of the river, the half-submerged hulk of the concrete boat ‘Cretehauser’ and beyond that, Claxheugh Rock. Altogether and especially on a day like this, a rather uninspiring view.

In January 2016, on a rather grey overcast day, I took a photograph looking upstream from an old board walk. I wouldn’t have normally thought the view worth capturing, but I took it so that I could come back and take another shot from the same spot after the new bridge was built. Not long after that first photograph was taken, a dredger arrived and began removing material from the bed of the river where the foundations for the bridge’s central support pylon would eventually be sited.

It is interesting now, to re-visit and see just how this empty space has been taken over and filled with the New Wear Crossing construction. The visual dynamics of the area have changed dramatically as the new bridge has steadily taken shape.

The visual dynamics of this stretch of the River Wear changed as the bridge deck was pushed out by hydraulic rams and the tug ‘Louis’ arrived from Belgium, transporting the central support pylon.

After the central support pylon was raised, people began to appreciate the scale of the construction. The structure of the New Wear Crossing now had height as well as width and it could now be seen by anyone upstream passing across the A19 Hylton Bridge.

At low tide remnants exist of a time when the Wear was a hive of activity for some considerable distance inland. There were numerous boat-building yards, slipways and staiths all along the river and here, where this photograph was taken, Hylton Colliery.

After the bridge’s remaining suspension cables are attached and tensioned between the road deck and central pylon, the temporary bridge supports (painted blue) will be removed. The original design had a central pylon that had a more curvaceous twist to it, but spiraling costs and other considerations meant going for a simpler design. Having said that, nearly everyone I’ve met when I’ve been photographing the construction project has given it the thumbs up. Visually, it’s making a big statement, in every sense, both upon the immediate area and for the city as a whole. Hopefully, it’s also going to become a visual metaphor for the future development and prosperity of Wearside.

The New Wear Crossing is being built at a time of great optimism in the city and when completed next year, will hopefully help to promote further confidence and investment.