Study looks at sea rise threat to North East coast

The coast is a key part of the Tyneside conurbation. It's a favoured place to live, and is ecologically and environmentally important

The North and South piers which provide protection for the Tyne
The North and South piers which provide protection for the Tyne

The coast is a key part of the Tyneside conurbation. It’s a favoured place to live, and is ecologically and environmentally important.

And its economic value ranges from leisure and tourism to the offshore industry and Port of Tyne.

Now a group of experts has produced a study on what the future could hold for the coast and the Tyne estuary.

The Seascape study has been organised by Newcastle conservation architect Cyril Winskell, and examines the area’s history, industrial development and what climate change and sea level rise could bring.

Contributors have included architects, urban designers, planners, landscape architects, engineers and artists.

The study looks at the days when the Tyne was exposed to the full force of the sea and its storms, with the Black Middens to the north and Herd Sands to the south claiming many a shipwreck.

But then 149 million tons of material was dredged from the Tyne and in 1852 Parliamentary consent was given to build the protective 5,150ft pier at South Shields and the 2,050ft pier at Tynemouth.

The study says that the alignment of the coastline and its geology will define the way climate change and sea level rise will modify the shape of the coast over the next century.

South of the Tyne, the make up of the coast includes land reclaimed from salt marsh and soft magnesian limestone.

This is vulnerable to erosion and in 2010 there was a large-scale cliff face collapse at Frenchman’s Bay.

The bay was once a public, sandy beach used by local holidaymakers but that beach no longer exists to any great extent.

A foreshore rock barrier has been created at Graham Sands to prevent the leaching of contamination from an old landfill site which has been affected by coastal erosion.

Rock stacks left by erosion at Marsden Bay
Rock stacks left by erosion at Marsden Bay

There will be potential long-term loss of sandy coastline north of the Tyne.

The North of England climate change adaptation study says: “Changes in winter rainfall, extreme rainfall events, sea levels and surges will place increasing pressure on flood and sea defences.”

Shoreline management plans warn the stability of the coastline in relation to climate change depends on the piers.

Any long-term damage to the north pier – which has failed before- from lack of maintenance of storm damage would have a “catastrophic” effect on Littlehaven at South Shields and the shelter provided for North Shields Fish Quay.

The study also advises closer co-operation and linkage between North and South Shields, along the lines of Newcastle-Gateshead.

This could include a cable car link between the Fish Quay and Mill Dam in South Shields or a temporary floating bridge in summer.

Seascape is the latest in a series of studies, convened by Cyril Winskell, over the last 26 years.

Many suggestions made in the first, a Newcastle Cityscape project, have come to pass.

These include the pedestrianisation of Northumberland Street, a public square outside the Laing Art Gallery, a main entrance to Eldon Square shopping centre from Old Eldon Square and the demolition of the Westgate House office block which straddled Westgate Road.

Mr Winskell said that a prime area for future pedestrianisation was around the Haymarket area, with the Civic Centre, Newcastle and Northumbria universities and the top of Northumberland Street nearby all reaping the benefit.

A Gateshead townscape study looked at the obstacles to movement from the town centre to the quayside and called for the demolition of the Gateshead flyover.

Bridgescape and Riverscape studies advocated a river bus boat commuter service, but Mr Winskell said that a stumbling block was the need for an Act of Parliament to alter river speed limits.

The Seascape study was launched at South Shields Town Hall. South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said: “Our coastline has a rich seafaring and industrial history, not to mention natural beauty, and for local people in particular it carries huge attachment as a place where many memories are made.

“Our changing climate presents us with new challenges and opportunities, as has been demonstrated by the recent re-alignment of the sea wall at Littlehaven and the creation of a new promenade for visitors.”


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