The Littlehaven promenade and seawall scheme has transformed a stretch of South Shields’ seafront in northeast England from a neglected length of coastline into a desirable visitor destination. The project involved the demolition of a failing seawall, on-site reuse of excavated material in raising levels and landscaping of backing land areas, and construction of a 500m promenade and seawall along a new, landward and more sustainable, curved alignment. High-quality concrete finishes, bespoke public art and breath-taking streetscape were used to ensure this striking scheme captured the public imagination and revitalised the seafront.
Littlehaven beach is located within the metropolitan borough of South Tyneside in the north east region of England. It sits within the harbour arms (North Pier and South Pier) of the River Tyne.
In 2007, work commenced on investigations, options appraisal, environmental assessment and design of a new promenade and seawall to replace the existing wall. The old, failing wall was suffering from structural damage due to wave attack, foreshore lowering leading to undermining at the toe, regular wave overtopping and consequent flooding of the backing car park.
Throughout 2013, a major civil engineering project was undertaken to construct a new seawall with an amenity promenade, adopting a more naturally embayed curvature along the Littlehaven promenade.
The problems that were being experienced with the original seawall were mainly due to its plan alignment and cross sectional form. The structure protruded seawards in the centre of the Littlehaven beach frontage to intercept the high water mark and comprised vertically-faced seawall which caused wave reflection and toe scouring and did little to limit wave overtopping.
Within this attractive setting, Littlehaven beach was identified at an early stage as being a truly unique location with a strong sense of place and maritime history. South Tyneside’s vision for the scheme was to create an environment where people choose to visit; it saw the project as not only an opportunity to improve South Shields’ coastal defences, but also create a unique environment to complement the town’s other seafront and riverside attractions. Due to this, whilst approaches of refurbishing the wall in-situ or replacing the wall along its original alignment were considered as potential management options, the preferred option was to proactively realign the wall to a new landward position. The purpose of this was to reduce the exposure of the new structure to wave overtopping and toe undermining and, in doing so, intentionally increase the width of the natural beach to provide a more sustainable overall coastal defence system.
The more natural curvature of the new seawall’s plan alignment reduces the risk of overtopping and protects the frontage from coastal erosion and sea flooding. The new stepped apron leading from the amenity promenade to the beach increases access and connectivity between the land and marine environments to the benefit of visitors. These much-improved coastal defences for South Shields also put the beach resort back on the map as a visitor destination of choice, stimulating the frontage through a variety of public art and streetscape features that add amenity enhancement to the core coastal defence functionality. Other key features of the scheme include a new visitors’ car and coach park with improved surface water drainage, a reconstructed sea outfall, and transplantation of sand dune vegetation to mitigate environmental effects from the works.
In order for the aesthetics of the new seawall and promenade to remain in-keeping with the amenity enhancements along the adjacent Sandhaven frontage, a new public realm has been delivered, seamlessly integrating artwork and landscaping into the engineering works. The vision for the public realm is to celebrate the character of the existing setting of the beach which contrasts from open, wild and exposed at the mouth of the river Tyne to sheltered, calm and intimate towards the town centre. The sites unique location where the River Tyne meets the North Sea has been explored as a metaphor for storytelling and the relevance to sea shanties and poetry from the local area. “Blow the Wind Southerly”, a traditional Northumbrian folk song which tells of a woman desperately hoping for a southerly wind to blow her lover back home to her from over the ocean, wraps around the opening of the Eye sculpture. Artwork and the new Littlehaven branding are blasted onto the new seawall with a unique entrance feature based on the traditional ‘coble’ boat that draws people towards the beach and onto the promenade.
Opportunities to emphasise the beaches location at the mouth of the Tyne have been created – port holes in the gateway sail feature, Eye sculpture and feature bowed wall frame these views and play on scale. More subtle references to the coastal location are reflected in the shapes of the bespoke seats inspired by marine diatoms (phytoplankton) and sand dune systems.
The project has received funding from South Tyneside Council, the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water. Cost effectiveness was a key consideration during the options appraisal, and the reuse of waste materials greatly contributed to keeping the scheme within a budget of £5 million. With regards to the public realm, best use was made of the budget available, introducing a number of selected bespoke items to provide a unique scheme, whilst specifying standard items that complement the bespoke ones, and keep the scheme within the agreed costs.
The scheme’s development demonstrates the ongoing commitment of South Tyneside Council, as the coast protection authority, to an integrated approach to sustainable coastal management and how, with an appropriate ‘vision for change’ and with a team working pro-actively and collaboratively, a coastal community, local economy and seafront environment can become revitalised.
Littlehaven Promenade and Seawall | Littlehaven beach, South Shields, UK | OOBE
Design firm | OOBE Ltd
Consultants | South Tyneside Council (client); Royal Haskoning DHV (engineers), Galliford Try Plc (main contractor), Broadbent Studio (artist)
Credit for images and text
Image credit | Steve Mayes Photography; Mike Goodall; Steve Burdett
Text credit | Royal Haskoning DHV, OOBE Ltd, South Tyneside Council, Galliford Try Plc