AS the Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association Awards highlight some of the stars of North-East construction, The Northern Echo business desk looks at projects that are preserving historic gems and creating innovation.

HIGH tech groundwork helping to put historic Durham City at the forefront of advanced renewable electricity generation has won a major industrial award also for the civil engineers who carried it out.

Rainton Construction, a firm based in the city, has won Project of the Year in annual awards presented by the Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association in the North-East.

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In the city centre a Rainton workforce has installed the concrete channel to take a 13 metre long, 20 tonne Archimedean Screw enabling Durham City to be the first UK city centre with a hydro generation system on site to provide electricity.

The electricity will serve Freeman’s Reach, a new £27 million riverside development comprising 8,000 sq metres of offices, retail and leisure accommodation. The development within sight of two World Heritage sites – the city’s cathedral and castle – will be completed next year.

Rainton Construction did the work as a sub-contractor to Carillion Building, Carillion Developments being a consortium partner for the entire project with Arlington Real Estate and Richardson Capital. Part of Rainton’s work included an environmental task to include an effective fish pass, an otter “hotel”, bat cave, and nesting sites for sand martins, all within earshot of heavy city centre traffic.

The 100kw hydro-driven generator will provide more than 75 per cent of power Freeman’s Reach needs. During low demand, its electricity will be distributed elsewhere in the city via the National Grid.

Other awards CECA (NE) has made recognise other contractors’ achievements in revitalising long established landmarks of the region. Two companies highly commended are Balfour Beatty for its enhancement of Teesside’s famous Transporter Bridge on behalf of Stockton and Middlesbrough Councils, and Owen Pugh of Dudley, Northumberland, for its extensive restoration of Dunston Staiths on the Tyne, on behalf of Tyne and Wear Buildings Preservation Trust.

Teesside’s Grade II architecturally listed bridge is the largest of its kind still operating in the world - and one of only three such bridges left in the UK. The bridge, opened in 1911, transports a suspended gondola across the Tees in three minutes, carrying up to 200 people and nine cars at a time. It now serves as a visitor attraction.

Dunston Staiths at Gateshead, also Grade II architecturally listed, required work to make it publicly accessible again. Completed in 1893, it was reputedly the largest freestanding timber structure in Europe, and in its heyday 140,000 tons of Durham coal a week was loaded there for shipment to London and the Continent.

With mining’s decline it closed in 1980. In 1990 it briefly provided a walkway for visitors to the National Garden Festival at Gateshead, but two fires later made it unsafe to the public. Owen Pugh’s restoration of 40 frames of the structure over land and river now enables it to be an attraction for strollers again, and an educational resource for schools – as well as a natural roost and shelter for wild life, including wading birds and otters.

Also commended was Seymour Civil Engineering of Hartlepool for urban flood alleviation at Lakes Estate, Hebburn; Southbay Civil Engineering of North Shields for a Tees jetty upgrade, with additional berthing, on behalf of Inter Terminals Ltd, the international bulk liquid storage provider; and Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK for its regeneration of Britain’s widest high street, in Stockton.

A fourth commendation went to Lumsden and Carroll of Bowburn, Durham, for re-invigorating Exhibition Park in Newcastle, whose golden years were 1887 - when it hosted a mining, engineering and industrial exhibition to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 50th jubilee - and 1929 when more than 4 million visitors attended a North East Coast Exhibition there.

The park had long lost lustre but now, with a new entrance, stonework repaired, railings and street furniture replaced, and facilities for many recreations restored, it is expected to flourish as a city centre attraction once more. Routes have also been improved for visitors passing through to visit Newcastle’s annual Hoppings, claimed to be Europe’s largest travelling funfair.

Douglas Kell, director of CECA (NE) said: “The judges’ awards, given in a very high standard of entries, highlight the high degree of civil engineering skills that exist in the North-East, whether creating the innovative new or preserving the best of the old.”

PANEL:

Transporter Bridge: To mark its centenary Stockton and Middlesbrough Councils, as owners, converted this bridge into a visitor attraction. A Heritage Lottery award of £2.7 million allowed also refurbishment of a visitor centre there. Using a 250 tonne crane at one stage to lift steelwork 70 metres, Balfour Beatty provided maintenance, both painting and structure repairs. It provided a new lift, reconstructed the gondola to restore aerial views of the river enjoyed in earlier times, replaced walkways and made other improvements.

Dunston Staiths: The owners, Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, got funding from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund to re-open the staiths’ first 40 frames to the public over land and water. The workers involved, for safety, were trained in mud rescue – and boat rescue to Royal Yachting Association standards.

Exhibition Park: Lumsden and Carroll had a £2.1m contract from Newcastle City Council to refurbish and restore the park as a major attraction. Facilities now exist for boating, bowling, croquet, skating, tennis and model railways. A Grade II architecturally listed bandstand, the only structure left from 1887, has been renovated, and a café transformed and extended. The project was partly funded by Lottery and by the city’s own regeneration fund.