VISIONARY engineers have created a world first in the North-East.

Gateshead's Millennium Bridge made a two-hour journey by giant crane up the River Tyne from the Amec yard, at Wallsend, yesterday before being lowered into place next to the new Baltic Arts Centre.

The £22m river crossing is attracting interest from across the world, not only as the latest landmark for the region, but because of its unique "blinking eye" design.

The 164ft-high bridge uses a special tilting mechanism to open, turning on pivots on sides of the river to form a gateway arch.

Its opening, to allow ships to pass, resembles the opening and closing of a human eyelid.

Two concrete piers on each side of the river hide the hydraulic rams, pivots and motors which will open the 800-tonne steel bridge.

Each opening or closing will take four minutes, powered by eight electric motors totalling 589 horsepower - the same power as eight Ford Escort cars. However, in these energy-efficient days, each opening will cost just £3.60.

John Johnson, Gateshead Borough Council's director of design and construction, said: "This bridge is the first of its kind and there has been an awful lot of interest from engineers around the world.

"We wanted something special because the bridge is partly Millennium Commission-funded and we had to have something which was a millennium landmark.

"It can't fail to be a landmark, standing right next to the Baltic Centre and the new Music Centre. The whole Gateshead Quays will be transformed."

The bridge was lowered by the 10,650-tonne floating crane on to 16 support piles and stands in the shadow of the world-famous Tyne Bridge.

Workmen who lined the bridge up could only have afforded to be millimetres out.

Its 105-metre span will link Gateshead Quays and Newcastle Quayside, a move predicted to encourage a flourishing waterside economy.

Pedestrians and cyclists can cross the bridge once the finishing touches are completed in July next year.

However, it will not wobble like the Millennium Bridge in London.

Mr Johnson said: "That bridge was totally different. On any bridge you will find some vertical movement, even on the Tyne Bridge, but this one won't wobble sideways like the one in London.

"This is a very precise piece of engineering, which will draw people to come and walk across it and visit the Tyne Quays."