04 August 2013

River Wear design airbrushed from history

You could be forgiven for thinking that somebody was trying to airbrush the ill-fated New Wear Crossing out of history.

First, the project website www.newsunderlandbridge.com was removed, along with many detailed project documents which, to me at least, remain quite interesting. If you want to know about how Sunderland Council developed the cost estimate for the bridge or analysed the benefits it would bring, you can forget it.

The bridge has also become a ghost on lead designer Techniker's website, removed from their project list and from their news/blog entries. There are no longer any links given to their ICE lecture on the bridge, or to a selection of design drawings. A few ectoplasmic traces remain, in the form of the Stitching Structures lecture, and Google still provides access to both the ICE lecture and some project details, even if the direct links have been edited out.

Of the others involved in the project, Roughan O'Donovan, responsible for much of the detailed design work, make no mention of it on their website, while only Hewson Consulting Engineers, who also provided significant design expertise, seem unembarrassed enough to still feature the scheme on their website. You can also, if you wish, still read about the design's "Very Good" CEEQUAL rating, awarded for sustainability which seems somewhat daft in light of the design's grossly excessive material demands.

I feel sure I had read of plans for an IStructE regional lecture about the project, but can find no sign of it on the IStructE events website.

I think this is all a shame, as whatever the scheme's merits or lack thereof, it was a breathtakingly bold design, and should form a useful case study for students of bridge architecture, engineering and procurement for many years.

There has been little in the way of public analysis of what went wrong, with Sunderland Council clearly determined to bury the whole fiasco as quickly as possible, building a new bridge proposal upon the grave as quickly as they can, bound as they are by a commitment to spend the central government money already granted to them.

One group of gravediggers has been firmly rebuffed, with local Tories refused permission to ask the obvious questions, such as "so, just how much would it have cost?" and "How much money has been wasted?" This may seem somewhat ironic to locals, who will doubtless recall that local Tory leader Robert Oliver was one of the bridge scheme's most enthusiastic promoters. I don't know enough about what has gone on behind the scenes to be able to judge, but given what has happened on several other ultimately unproductive bridge design competitions, I would think that an unwillingness of politicians to put their grandiose ambition aside and to seek out properly critical advice has possibly played a very real part in events.

Update 15th August: Thank you to Matthew Wells for advising that his IStructE evening lecture on the bridge will take place in Manchester on 11th November.


Matthew Wells said...

I will be discussing the New Wear Crossing at the IStructE lecture in Manchester on 11th November

The Happy Pontist said...

Thank you, I will update the article.