Esh makes tight work of Tyne Bridge restoration

Photo credit: Andrew Heptinstall Photography

Work to restore the iconic Tyne Bridge to its former glory is said to be well under way within the first month of engineers being on site, despite having to work in some rather cramped spaces.

Over the last five weeks, appointed contractor, Esh Construction has started on the 900 steelwork repairs that are required to preserve the Grade II* listed structure for future generations.

Work is currently underway within the tight confines of the 1.5m high bridge deck void, which is under the footway, where a full clean-up operation will remove dirt, rust, and pigeon guano to provide a safe working environment for essential structural repairs to be carried out on the bridge hangers.

To access the void, operatives first had to break out the footway surfacing and lift the bolted down steel buckle plates on the east footway.

At the same time, within the encapsulated scaffold adjacent to the Gateshead tower, more cleaning is taking place to clear the steelwork of foreign matter and hazardous substances before grit blasting can take place to remove over 96 years’ of previous paint coatings.

Once this is complete, repairs will be made and then repainting can take place. Due to its Grade II* listed status, the paint colour used will be British Standard BS14C39 or ‘Greenwood’, which is a colour as close to the original as possible (British Standard BS4800).

Councillor Marion Williams, Newcastle City Council’s cabinet member for a connected, clean city, said: “It’s a tight squeeze for the those working within the narrow bridge void as cars travel above, but we’re making good progress. We know how important this work is to the people of the region …

“It is a long four-year programme, but these vital works are needed to preserve this much-loved landmark for the future, and we can’t wait to see it shining in the Tyneside sky again.”

Councillor John McElroy, cabinet member for the environment and transport at Gateshead Council, added: “It’s great to see this vital project progressing well. There has been a lot of understanding about the vital nature of the restoration, and we are grateful that people are listening to the travel advice and keeping the transport network moving.”

Esh says it is expected to take up to 12 months to complete the structural repairs to the East side of the bridge deck, before moving on to the West side of the bridge to carry out similar works. Once both sides are complete the emphasis will move onto the main arch.

The restoration programme has been carefully planned over the four-year period, with parts of the bridge to be scaffolded in around 20 phases, to allow the repair and painting works to be carried out safely. The scaffolding will be removed as each section is completed to maintain the required loading capacity.

A bridge so far

Confined space entry shown by one of the operatives on site where rope access has to be used to enter the bridge deck void safely. Photo credit: Andrew Heptinstall Photography

To carry out the work safely and to protect the workforce and the public, the Tyne Bridge, which is used by up to 70,000 vehicles a day, has been reduced to one lane in each direction, effectively halving the capacity of the route at peak hours. These lane restrictions will be in place for a minimum of two years as the iconic structure is fully restored.

Stephen McClean, special projects construction manager at Esh Construction, said: “We were eager to get started on the restoration and have hit the ground running within the first month.

“A lot of the work we’re doing isn’t visible at this stage to members of the public as it takes place behind the encapsulated hoarding as well as in the bridge deck void.

“As people drive, walk or wheel across the bridge, our team are working within confined space conditions which only reach a maximum height of 1.5 metres, and in many sections of the bridge deck void where we clamber and crawl over beams, joints and pipework, the space becomes even more cramped.”

The full £32m programme of works to the Tyne Bridge includes steelwork repairs, grit blasting and re-painting, concrete repairs, drainage improvements, stonework and masonry repairs, bridge deck waterproofing and resurfacing, parapet protection and bridge joint replacement.

A number of improvements to public transport, walking and cycling routes have been put in place to encourage people to use these forms of travel to help ease traffic congestion.

The four-year programme is expected to be complete in Summer 2028, ahead of the bridge’s centenary in October 2028.

The Tyne Bridge restoration is funded by the UK Government, as well as monies from both Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council.

The Government signed off £35.2m on 2 February 2024 towards the cost of two projects: The restoration of the Tyne Bridge and the Central Motorway upgrade. The two councils still await confirmation of the remaining £6m which was announced as part of the Network North plan in October.

Main image: It’s a tight squeeze in the bridge deck void where operatives are undertaking a full clean-up operation before bridge hanger repairs can begin. Photo credit: Andrew Heptinstall Photography

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