In my view

There is nothing more positive than a bridge. Bridges bring people together, help us to travel and can often connect and create communities.

There is nothing more positive than a bridge. Bridges bring people together, help us to travel and can often connect and create communities.

I don't know whether anyone has ever researched the economic impact of bridges, but I have been developing a theory about the role that bridges have played in the regeneration of the North-East and in particular to NewcastleGateshead.

The Romans' Pons Aelius was the first known bridge across the Tyne in 122 AD. Remnants of it can still be seen in Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities, but its impact in connecting the gorge between Gateshead Bottle Bank and the north of the river literally laid the foundations of our regional capital.

The river was wider then, with natural grassy beaches, but the vision of crossing it led to the first burst of economic growth on the banks of the Tyne.

One of the most distinctive residences of the mid-1700s would have been to live in one of the 21 houses which formed the street on the old Tyne Bridge. Sadly, it was not very well built and was washed away in the floods of 1770.

It is interesting to track the lifespan of our bridges over the ages and to predict when each of them will end their useful service. How many people realise that we have had three Redheugh Bridges in less than 150 years?

In reality, the value of a bridge goes well beyond its life as a crossing point. If you look back at the surges in economic development of Tyneside they are almost all linked to the construction of a new bridge. The same can be said of many great cities around the world.

In the more recent history of the 1840s, we saw the construction of Stephenson's High Level Bridge bringing the first joint rail and road crossing of the Tyne Gorge. The bridge coincided with the completion of Grainger Town and the development of Newcastle Central Station.

As it is lovingly restored for modern use, there continues to be regeneration on both banks with UK Land Estates developing The Point on the site of the old Station Hotel in Gateshead and Bellway building new housing. In Newcastle, it will connect with the rebirth of the historic heart of the city.

Armstrong's Swing Bridge, completed in 1876, coincided with another period of renewed civic pride, including the building of Gateshead Old Town Hall and the opening of Saltwell Park. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is recent enough for us all to understand its significance. It was the first bridge built for people and leisure. Even the Romans built bridges for carts and vehicles, but our latest crossing is for pedestrians, cyclists and sightseers.

The symbolic impact of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge will go down in history as creating a new chapter in the links between Newcastle and Gateshead. In recent weeks, we saw council leaders Mick Henry and John Shipley outlining proposals for a City Development Company. The announcement took place on the bridge.

The bridge that made Baltic feasible and led to the decision by Northern Arts to locate The Sage Gateshead in Gateshead.

The bridge that will bring Gateshead College to a new £35m campus at the Baltic Business Park.

The bridge that has prompted at least five new hotel developments.

The bridge that has created the route for Nova International's Great North Mile run.

The bridge that has launched a million photos of the Tyne and along with the Angel, repositioned us in the national and international media.

The bridge that has given the river back to the people of Newcastle and Gateshead.

Later this month Nexus will reveal the lighting on the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, creating a new icon for the North-East. It will be followed by Silverlink's development behind Newcastle Central Station of the Stephenson Quarter with new hotels, offices and city centre housing in an area previously made prosperous by the mainline railway bridges.

In 1859, the traffic census saw more livestock and horses crossing the Tyne than wagons or carriages. The vast majority, some 170,000 a week, were crossing by foot. We now live in an age of mass transport by train and car.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge has had a huge impact and will continue to do so, but where is the vision for our next crossing? To maintain the momentum of growth we need to start the debate now. It may be that in the next 50 years we need more crossings for the car or high speed trains, but perhaps the next Millennium Bridge will also be one for pedestrians.

What would a new road bridge do now for Walker and East Gateshead? How would a bridge into the MetroCentre help regenerate the value of land in Newcastle's West End? In the next five years we will see important new bridges in Sunderland, connecting the Stadium of Light with the city centre and in Stockton, where a new bridge will regenerate the north bank of the Tees.

Given the strong vision and leadership that exists in NewcastleGateshead, I have no doubt that we will see another bridge across the Tyne within the next decade.

Perhaps we should create a challenge to local architects, developers and planners to work with business, communities and the media to start thinking about where that bridge might have the most impact. Where would you like it to be?

* Andrew Dixon is chief executive of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative.


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