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Northern Spire

Sunderland, United Kingdom


August 2018


3 years


£117 million


United Kingdom
Project achievements

A vital transport link connecting city and port with a major road system

Northern Spire is a new landmark bridge dominating Sunderland’s skyline, which opened in August 2018. It’s central to a new strategic road, linking the A19 to Sunderland city centre and Port of Sunderland, and is already creating economic growth and development opportunities by significantly improving connectivity locally and across the region.

The innovative project has raised the profile of civil engineering. The 100m A-frame pylon was transported by sea and river to the site, before being raised into position during a carefully orchestrated two-day operation. The 330m deck was built alongside and launched across the river.

Did you know …

  1. The method used to build the bridge involved the 100m-high, A-frame pylon being manufactured in Belgium, transported by barge to Sunderland and then raised into place over two days using a jack and cable system, providing benefits in terms of cost, programme, delivery and the environment.

  2. A coordinated approach was required between the on-site works and the fabrication process to ensure key structural elements, fabricated in two different countries – Belgium and the UK – would accurately come together.

  3. A key technical challenge was the connection of the hinge at the base of the pylon to the in-river foundations. Different tolerances had to be accommodated, including the materials and fabrication conditions, to ensure that these elements would meet accurately, and in the correct configuration to allow the hinge and temporary erection system to function during the raising process.

Project achievements and benefits

The local community benefited from the creation of jobs in the area, with 53% of inducted staff living within 20 miles of the Northern Spire site.

Three ‘meet the supplier’ events were also held, which saw more than 100 businesses attending. Half of the suppliers to the site are based within the north-east region.

The project inspired young people to consider careers in construction and civil engineering in various ways.

Five apprentices and nine graduates worked on the project, while 77 STEM students from Sunderland College visited and gained work experience on the project. Employability skills training was also delivered to 91 people at Springboard/Sunderland College.

The local community was also encouraged to get involved with the project, with a classroom and viewing platform created on the site, and more than 10,300 votes were cast to name the new bridge.

Northern Spire’s project team also made sure to contribute to local community activities, which included working with the Wear Rivers Trust to clean up the banks of Rainton Burn to create a secure habitat.

It also provided funding to Washington Wetland Centre for the creation of new otter holts, and to Pallion Traders Association for flowerbeds. Funding was also provided for a community-led art project.

The project team worked hard to support local businesses which could be affected by Northern Spire and engaged proactively with neighbours and the businesses that were most directly affected. This involved everyone, from residents to bingo operators and major landlords.

How the work was done

The project had a strong focus on sustainability and the environment.

The Farrans-Victor Buyck Joint Venture worked closely with the Environment Agency and council advisers to agree to a Materials Management Plan, which helped to minimise the impact of industrial legacy. A detailed analysis of site won materials [waste materials generated by construction works that can be reused] allowed extensive re-use on site.

An agreed minimum footprint for installation and removal of temporary support towers, and specific methods were used to protect the underlying saltmarsh and allow it to regenerate.

Sustainable materials were also used, with the bridge being made predominantly of steel. Reinforced earth approach structures were also chosen to reduce the need for concrete.

To minimise the noise impact on the local community, the pylon was constructed off-site in a factory in an industrial area. Additional monitoring was also agreed with regulatory bodies for noise.

The prefabrication of the pylon also helped to minimise carbon footprint of the project because larger units could be moved at once, minimising road transportation. The canal/sea transport option presented the smallest carbon footprint for maximum benefit.

An innovative method was also used to reduce the impact of construction in the river. The traditional approach to bridge construction of this kind uses a causeway or temporary jetty to give access to erect the main pylon. However, in this project, the pylon was raised, and therefore avoided this.

Finally, oxygen in the River Wear was closely monitored to ensure that there was minimal impact on migratory fish.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Sunderland City Council
  • Contractor: Farrans – Victor Buyck Joint Venture
  • Pre-Contract Bridge Design & Specification Advisors: AECOM
  • Architectural Concept Designers: Yee Associates
  • Highways Designer: Jacobs
  • Bridge Designers: Buro Happold – Roughan & O’Donnovan Design Joint Venture
  • Overseeing Organisation: Atkins
  • Approvals Project Manager: Faithful+Gould
  • Public Relations: DTW
  • Principal Designer: Safe Track Associates
  • Funding: The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

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