WEATHERED by years of lapping waters and lashing rain, the Cretehawser sits abandoned on the River Wear.

A gnarled legacy of Sunderland’s shipbuilding heritage, the concrete tug boat was built by the Wear Concrete Company nearly 100 years ago and operated as an experimental vessel.

A victim of Second World War bombing raids, she was moved up the river and now sits at Claxheugh Rock, a stationary figure amid the city’s shifting landscape.

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Her resting place also overlooks Sunderland’s Pallion suburb, an area once bustling with industrial activity.

In years gone by, the riverbank was dominated by yards, which helped the city gain a reputation for being the largest shipbuilding town in the world.

Latterly at Pallion, Coles Cranes, which became Grove Cranes, was a hub for highly-skilled manufacturing, sending heavy lifting equipment around the world.

But Grove’s plant, on the south of the river, shut in the late 1990s, leaving hundreds out of work, and its vast factory footprint, comprising various smaller outbuildings, subsequently became a home for minor businesses, employing just handfuls of workers.

However, salvation may be close.

A £117m bridge over the Wear, the first in more than 40 years, is under construction and due to open in 2018.

Twice the height of Tyneside’s Millennium Bridge at its highest point, the new crossing, say council leaders and developers, will help connect the Port of Sunderland and the city centre with the A1 and A19.

The bridge will link European Way, in Pallion, with Wessington Way, in Castletown, and is being erected by FVB, a partnership set up by Belfast and Cambridgeshire-based Farrans Construction and Belgium’s Victor Buyck Steel Construction.

Where the new bridge meets land on the south side will be where Coles and Grove’s factory once stood.

Surveying the construction site and banksides, Councillor Paul Watson, Sunderland City Council leader, reels off company names of yesteryear.

However, he is quick to say the work has the very real capacity to lure new businesses, enticed by better transport links, to invest in the city and create jobs.

He also said it has the potential to make existing companies reconsider adding to their status in Sunderland, with tentative plans also in place to add housing on the south side.

He said: “This bridge is a major part of the city and it will impact massively on the region.

“These historic sites on the south bank used to drive the economy of the city; Coles Cranes were the big employers back then.

“This work will allow us to link the A19 to the city centre and the A1 further across.

“It’s really going to make a difference.

“This will open up more opportunities for business and makes the whole south side much more accessible.

“It will lead to investment in the city, see land along the south of the river regenerated and will reduce journey times.”

David Abdy, the council’s project director, reiterated Councillor Watson’s point, saying for every £1 invested in construction the local economy will benefit to the tune of £2.84.

He added: “Grove and Coles had put a lot of smaller buildings on the site for use and some have relocated with the help of the council (to make space for the bridge).

“The new crossing will be a key economic driver for future investment and help to create thousands of new jobs at development sites along the riverside corridor.

“It’s tangible now and you can see it coming across; it will be something for the people of Sunderland to be really proud of.”

FVB is due to begin building foundations for the bridge after Easter, with the platforms setting a base for the crossing’s main pylon.

At 105-metres tall, and twice the height of Nelson’s Column, the A-frame pylon is scheduled to arrive from Belgium via the Port of Sunderland at the end of the year to be hoisted into place.

To prepare for the frame’s arrival, workers have built a cofferdam, which acts as a watertight structure in the river.

In the coming days, it will be drained so contractors can start putting in the foundations for the pylon, with bridge supports and decking due to be fitted in the spring and summer.

Councillor Watson added: “The people of Sunderland have waited a long time for this bridge, so it will be wonderful to see the foundations getting underway in the river.

“It’s been a long time coming, but I firmly believe it will be a bridge to a better future.”

Stephen McCaffrey, FVB project director, said the plans are coming together nicely, adding he has been further cheered by the amount of local workers on site.

He said more than 700 people have already added their weight to the development, with a significant number hailing from the North-East and many more helping in the supply chain.

Overlooking the river, as a pilot boat checks on progress, he also praised the support given by the Port of Sunderland, which is helping with deliveries and storage.

Mr McCaffrey added: “This is a very significant project for the company; it’s a real landmark for us and for Sunderland.

“It’s a big site to be involved in and will be fantastic for the city.

“It’s also important for us to help local people and give them the opportunity to come and be involved in the project.

“This is a local development and it is important the local economy gets the benefits of it.

“When we began the project, we were very keen to involve the local workforce and business community and we are fortunate because the region has a wealth of skilled people and a variety of businesses we can draw on.

"We hope to continue doing that for the next two years.

“The Port of Sunderland is key for us and key for the success of the whole project.

“People are positive and it is encouraging to see this kind of level of investment coming in.

“It is a boost and recognition of the potential of Sunderland.”

Leaving the site, Councillor Watson jumps into a yellow pickup, which is ferrying guests from one side of the river to the other for a ceremony on the development’s progress.

As the vehicle ticks over at traffic lights off Alexandra Avenue, he remarks how the stationary picture will change once the bridge is open.

Once it does, thousands of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians will cross it every day.

When they do, the Cretehawser will watch every single one pass by.