1. Significant new visitor attraction and facility for local residents
The scheme would provide an entirely new viewpoint for Hexham Bridge and the River Tyne, enabling locals and visitors alike to walk out ‘above the river’ close to the south bank to:
- view Hexham Bridge (a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II* listed building) from an entirely new angle; and
- view the hydro power and fish passage facilities from above.
This new way to approach and appreciate Hexham Bridge, including the opportunity to view the Bridge and read about its history, at a relatively close distance from a new viewing platform, is considered to be a positive addition to the Bridges’ heritage.
This facility would be available year round except in high flood conditions i.e. when the structures would be entirely underwater, which they have been designed to accommodate given the high flood range of the River Tyne. Appropriate safety measures and signage are included in the design.
The design of the structures above water level (principally the education/control building and turbine housing with viewing platform) has been developed with support from local architects in response to public consultation.
See the Design Overview for sketches and a description of the new viewing and visitor facility.
2. Significant new education facility
The buildings, walkway and viewing point would be an important new education facility to advance understanding of the River Tyne, its fauna and flora and its many interactions with the human beings who live, work and play in its catchment.
The new facilities would incorporate permanent information displays as well as space for small groups (of up to around 20) to assemble for guided tours. Tours (pre-arranged) would be provided by volunteers with Transition Tynedale and Hexham Community Partnership. Other local organisations would also be encouraged to get involved.
Educational aspects would encompass:
- the river, its fauna and flora;
- fish migrations and the fish passage improvements included in the scheme;
- generation of electricity from run-of-river hydro power;
- the National Grid and use of the electricity generated; and
- community responses to climate change.
Opportunity would exist for further expansion of the educational aspects by e.g. live streaming of footage from the underwater cameras monitoring fish passage, or addition of otter cameras.
The educational benefits would be available to everyone who wishes to use the facility, as individuals or groups.
3. Demonstrating innovation with heritage
The North East of England played a unique role in the development of hydro-electric power with the work of Lord Armstrong in the nineteenth century.
The River Tyne also formerly powered many water mills, not least Tyne Mills, whose mill race ran close to the site for Hexham River Hydro. Some of the locations are shown on this map: Mills map
Hexham River Hydro would be built using modern engineering and technology but consistent with traditional methods and our regional heritage.
Hexham River Hydro demonstrates a willingness to innovate and address challenges and opportunities building on local assets (river/weir/public space) in a rural market town (population > 12,000) i.e. ‘on the edge’ relative to major urban populations.
4. Structural improvements to Hexham Bridge (Scheduled Ancient Monument)
The scheme would deliver structural improvement to important local infrastructure, namely Hexham Bridge.
In particular, the existing triangular apron on the south bank would be removed and reinstated with the proposed works. The existing triangular apron has failed, with the sheet piles undermined. The concrete slab has wide cracks and the piles have pulled away from the structure at the front edge. The reinstatement of this is considered to be a significant benefit to the structure.
Further, the entire scheme would provide robust support to one third of the existing apron covering the foundations of Hexham Bridge.
See section 11.3 of the design report for more information
5. Improved portage for canoeists
Incorporating feedback from Hexham Canoe Club, the design for Hexham River Hydro includes a new landing stage downstream to improve portage for canoeists.
Canoeing at Hexham is a popular sport and Hexham Canoe Club hosts annually the Tyne Tour, Europe’s biggest canoe meeting.
See section 4.5.3 of the design report for more information
6. The best possible use of this area of Hexham
The scheme would turn a piece of land that is currently little used and unattractive into an innovative and interesting site for visitors and locals alike. Other potential uses for this area are extremely limited.
7. Supporting other community energy projects in our region
Other community groups benefit from the skills and experience gained by the Hexham River Hydro team. Compared to many other areas of the UK, the North East has few community renewable energy schemes and even fewer community hydro schemes from which to build capability and capacity.
8. Developing energy security
Providing local, sustainable electricity generation helps reduce the risks associated with insecurity of electricity supply in the long term.
Ofgem warned in October 2012 of the reduction in electricity supply forecast for 2015/16 and the need for new investment:
Hexham River Hydro, an energyshare project made possible by British Gas and supported by Carbon Leapfrog, Cooperative Enterprise Hub, Vattenfall and The Naturesave Trust