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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 September 2006, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Bridge to nowhere? 'Not for long'
Gareth Jones
By Gareth Jones
BBC Wales business editor

More than a bridge, 'a message that Newport is changing'

"What's the point of that new bridge?" I heard someone ask in Newport the other day. "There's nothing on the other side!"

What is the point, indeed, of the latest 5m footbridge over the River Usk?

After all, Newport already has some half a dozen others up and down stream of this latest one.

They include the famous Transporter Bridge, 100 years old this week.

For sure, the new bridge connects a very built up-area on its west bank to what looks like an urban desert near Rodney Parade rugby ground.

But that could soon change. John Burrows, chief executive of Newport Unlimited, is trying to turn around a city centre, which has been looking very dilapidated since the 1970s.

In the last decade or so, more architects in the UK have been seeing bridges also as objects of beauty and interest

The city has just announced a 48m waterfront development to "create a vibrant new riverside community" at Rodney Parade, featuring new housing, shops and public areas.

"The new bridge," he told me, "will link the older and new areas. The crossing's a message that Newport's changing."

This idea of bridges being both catalysts and symbols of change has gained ground recently. According to Richard Parnaby, of the Design Commission for Wales, "in regeneration projects we're seeing more and more iconic bridges making a statement about being a 'new place'.

Top left clockwise: the Newport transporter bridge; Swansea sail bridge; Millennium bridge, London; Millennium bridge, Newcastle
Bridges can become iconic symbols of cities

"Bridges are also making links between developed urban areas and undeveloped ones, opening up new opportunities, new markets."

In the later 20th Century, bridges were often boring, functional affairs, built just to help people get around, mainly in their cars.

Elegant and daring

But this is changing. In the last decade or so, more architects in the UK have been seeing bridges also as objects of beauty and interest.

Jim Eyre, designer of the award-winning Millennium Bridge which joins Newcastle with Gateshead, says it has really rejuvenated Tyneside's image.

"What's also interesting is that the bridge has helped to increase civic pride in Gateshead."

Mr Eyre is part of the team that recently brought Swansea its new Waterfront Museum and Sail Bridge across the Tawe.

The crossing, between the marina and an area opening up for development called SA1, gets its name from the way the structure's central pillar and its steel cable suspension put you in mind of a ship's mast and rigging.

Its elegant and daring engineering has been taken to heart by the people I spoke to this week.

"It's beautiful, especially when lit up at night," said one. Others liked the fact that the Sail Bridge was for people and cycles, not cars.

Mr Eyre say his Swansea bridge is a powerful image. The hope is that, like Newport's latest marine structure, it will inspire greater pride and attract new economic activity in areas that have fallen on hard times.

City footbridge opened to public
12 Sep 06 |  South East Wales
City transporter bridge centenary
12 Sep 06 |  South East Wales
Final touches to city footbridge
10 Aug 06 |  South East Wales
Tallest crane to lift footbridge
02 May 06 |  South East Wales

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