New Directions for Great River

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Byline: By Graeme King

Massive investment in industry and leisure has reinvented the role of the river at the heart of Tyneside. Graeme King took a boat trip from the mouth of the great river up to the historic High Level Bridge to see the changes afoot.

There seems to be a bit of a time-lag in Tyneside's perception of what its great river looks like these days.

Those of us who don't visit the Tyne beyond taking visitors to the region to see the wonders of the Quayside redevelopment are maybe guilty of harbouring an outmoded notion of what it's all about.

For though nobody is pretending the river is anything like what it was in its industrial prime, with ships turned out of the yards by the dozen, a cruise up the Tyne reveals plenty of industry ( and leisure ( thriving.

Casting off from the Port of Tyne's impressive facilities at Tyne Dock, out into the mist of an unseasonal early August morning, the river's history is immediately apparent in the mixture of well-appointed modern apartment blocks and imposing industrial buildings.

There is a rich variety of sights to see on the Tyne, including some smaller buildings and organisations which can only really be seen from the river itself.

While there are still several big names in shipbuilding and offshore work, such as Swan Hunter, Amec, A&P Tyne and McNulty Offshore, in amongst the towering structures to be found in these yards there are also hidden gems.

There's a small South Tyneside College training facility, a home for the Royal Marines, the Northumbria Police river and diving centre, the Friars Goose Water Sports Club and two marinas. An eclectic mix indeed, and there are several sites still available to be developed.

The Port of Tyne itself has plenty to shout about just now with no less than pounds 70m having being invested over the past eight years to diversify the business's activities to fill the void left when coal exports ceased in 1998. Now, such has been the success of the port, it is an importer of coal for use in the Alcan facility on the Northumberland coast.

In the port compound, huge piles of scrap metal stand just yards from a giant vessel loading grain ( and a little further along, featureless shoebox-like vessels load some of the 350,000 Nissans which leave the North-East each year for export markets around the world. Across the river, hundreds of gleaming new vehicles stand waiting to find new homes on the recently developed VW import site, stretching off up the slope away from the ferry terminal where DFDS's Queen of Scandinavia ship is moored.

The ferries are proving so popular that the terminal is handling 12pc growth each year.

In the port complex, there are now sophisticated facilities for handling all types of cargo, with the ability to transfer containers on to trucks or rail, and giant warehouses providing storage for the port's diverse client base.

Beyond the main port area, the rest of the riverscape on the south bank of the Tyne could soon be quite substantially redeveloped following a five-month study into ways of maximising its potential.

The report will be perused by the local strategic partnership Transformation, before a full action plan is published later this year. South Tyneside Council already has some ideas on what could change to benefit the area's prospects.

Guy Currey, economic development manager for South Tyneside Council, said although definite plans have not yet been made, some of the consultants' proposals are being actively considered. …