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Work on Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels on Track

15th April 2014

Work on the £4 million refurbishment of the grade II-listed Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels which pass under the River Tyne between Howdon and Jarrow, is on course.

Capita’s North Tyneside Partnership is leading the design team for the Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority (TWITA) led project, and is also providing conservation architecture and planning services.

The tunnels were opened in 1951 and at their peak around 20,000 journeys were being made through them every day. Today, only around 20,000 journeys are made through the tunnels every month.

The biggest change will be the replacement of two of the four original escalators which, at a length of 197 feet, remain the longest of their type in Europe. The other two original escalators, which have been out of use for many years, will be left in situ, opened up to public view and feature lit.

Additionally, the tunnels will benefit from repairs to their structure, flooring and enhancement of heritage features such as tiling and paneling. There will also be improved security for users, through new CCTV and better lighting, plus new control and communications systems for its operators.

Gaining listed building consent has involved liaising with key stakeholders such as English Heritage and the local planning authorities on both sides of the river. By providing additional conservation drawings and a comprehensive Heritage Asset Statement that explained the need for the project, the Capita team minimised the risk of any delays to the consent process. The team is also ensuring that consent conditions are being met during the work by continuing to provide advice and liaising with relevant statutory bodies.

Other elements of Capita’s involvement have included:

  • developing the drawing production information and specifications as tender information;
  • co-ordinating the building works programme with other main works programme items and, where appropriate, with subsidiary works programme items; 
  • assisting the client with the tendering process (RIBA work stages G, H) and advising on tenders returned.
  • undertaking overall architectural consultant services (RIBA work stages J,K) during the start of the refurbishment and conservation works, which will continue until completion,  scheduled for February 2015

About the tunnels (

  • At their opening in 1951, the tunnels were considered to be the longest subterranean passages in the UK and were the country’s first purpose-built combined pedestrian and cycle tunnel;
  • The tunnels were built as part of the North East’s contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain
  • The site is an excellent example of post-war municipal design, exhibiting interesting detailing and using materials and design considered to be cutting edge in the early 1950’s.  Since then, only very minor alterations have affected the surface buildings, escalators and tunnels;
  • The tunnel is served by two Waygood Otis wooden tread escalators and a vertical lift on each side of the river.  The wooden Waygood-Otis escalators with their original motors and machinery are rare survivals both in a national and international context and are the longest continuous wooden escalators in the world. 
  • The tunnels were essential to the 20th century development of Tyneside as they allowed mass access for workers between their homes and the heavy industries which lined both banks of the River Tyne. Also many of the specialist trade skills were shared between shipyards and the tunnels allowed easy transfer of teams to other yards across the river.

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