A MONUMENT to North East industry could find a new life as a spectacular feature of a popular riverside cycle and walkway.
Consultants have completed three days of inspection – partly by boat – of the 1,709ft long Dunston Staithes on the Tyne at Gateshead, which are believed to be the largest wooden structure in Northern Europe.
The staithes, which opened in 1893 and closed almost a century later, is a listed structure and also a scheduled monument.
But after more than 30 years of lying idle and having suffered two fires, it is now on English Heritage’s At-Risk register. The organisation is working with owners Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust and Gateshead Council on how the staithes can be preserved.
Martin Hulse, trust secretary, said it was hoped that public access could be created to the staithes, which offers sweeping views along the river.
The aim is to make the structure a major asset to the growing community of Taylor Wimpey’s Staiths South Bank housing development and users of the riverside Keelman’ s Way cycle route.
This runs from Gateshead’s borders with South Tyneside at Bill Quay through Swalwell and Ryton to Wylam in Northumberland. The idea is for the staithes to be an exciting detour from the cycleway.
“Hundreds of people enjoy cycling and walking this route and the views from the top of the staithes are beautiful. To open the staithes again is my dream,” Martin added.
The structure was briefly used by the public as part of the 1990 National Garden Festival at Gateshead.
Martin is also planning to talk to former staithes workers to build up an oral history archive.
Consulting engineers Royal Haskoning, which has a Newcastle base and was commissioned to undertake the staithes survey, already has experience of opening up similar structures to the public.
The company’s projects have included Blyth Staithes in Northumberland and Hebburn Jetty in South Tyneside.
Haskoning senior engineer Jamie Ellis said: “Dunston Staithes, which has fantastic views , has 98 frames and we have been assessing their condition.”
The staithes exported coal from Tyneside and County Durham collieries and could accommodate six collier ships at a time.
Kate Wilson, Newcastle-based English Heritage inspector of ancient monuments, said: “Dunston Staithes is immensely important as the last vestige of the coal industry on the Tyne and as what is thought to be the largest wooden structure in Europe.”
The area around the staithes is also an important habitat for wildlife including two designated Local Wildlife Sites, saltmarsh and mudflats, which are home to an important wading bird population.
Durham Wildlife Trust would be involved in plans to enhance these habitats, adding to the visitor attraction potential.