Stockton-on-Tees has a bright future
PUBLISHED: 21:04 09 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:36 20 February 2013
The lower reaches of the River Tees became an engineering powerhouse during the Industrial Revolution, with Stockton at its centre. Andrew Smith visits the town and discovers a new era of prosperity beckoning
Stockton owes its existence to the river that runs through the town and the river is the focal point of exciting developments bringing a 21st century dimension to this historic location. For the attractive waterfront and prestigious new facilities on either side of the Tees set Stockton apart from other towns in the valley of this mighty river.
Since the flow of the Tees was harnessed almost two decades ago by the building of a barrage which created an attractive lagoon, careful development of both sides of the river has forged an environment where people want to live and work.
When the river was tidal through Stockton, bounded by the dereliction of the towns former industrial heritage, it was indeed a bleak place, shrouded in an almost perpetual fog of emissions from the massive eco-unfriendly chemical works a few miles downstream.
The transformation has been immense and it continues apace.
From the site of the original Anglo Saxon settlement close to the north bank of the river, now occupied by the town centre, the sweeping meander of the Tees leads to vast area of former wasteland appropriately called the Northshore.
Here stands the standard bearer for the advancing forces of investment in the form of the Infinity Bridge, the newest and most graceful of the lower Tees crossing points that currently looks like it goes from nowhere to nowhere.
As a statement of confidence in a prosperity that is already visible, Infinity serves its immediate purpose superbly, proudly signalling that the Northshore will shortly reverberate to the sound of workers occupying the new offices, residents in the new homes, visitors to the 150-bedroom hotel, the active and not-so-fit using the new leisure facilities and students at the new campus of Durham University.
On completion of the developments, the Infinity Bridge will then surely provide as busy a pedestrian crossing between the Northshore and the Teesdale Business Park, with its offices and college campuses, as does the equally iconic Millennium Bridge between Newcastle and Gateshead. In the meantime, Stockton works and waits for the promised prosperity to come.
There has been a market in Stockton for just over 800 years, with the first being established in 1310, when Bishop Bek of Durham granted a market charter to our town of Stockton, a market upon every Wednesday, for ever.
In addition to the market stalls, hopefully on Wednesday for ever but also on Fridays and Saturdays and with specialist markets at other times, there is The Shambles Indoor Market, occupying a charming Grade Two listed Georgian building in the centre of the market place that has been extensively renovated and a hidden Flea Market, hidden away in a small courtyard behind Caf Briscoe off Finkle Street, between the Market Place
and the river. Its easy to imagine that little has changed in this personal up-close manner of trading over the centuries and hawkers still shout about their bargains down this alley.
When the weather turns bad, the large, indoor Castlegate Shopping
Centre and the semi-covered Wellington Square centres offer an excellent range of popular High Street outlets.
Going back to the river, one of the jewels in Stocktons leisure crowns is the Tees Barrage International White Water Centre, created when the river was dammed to create a constant head of water back to Stockton.
A 4.6 million redevelopment of the White Water Centre has recently been completed, making it the perfect venue for sportsmen of international class and amateur adrenalin junkies who want to be scared witless for thrills. The course is one of only two in the UK to feature a water system used in training by the Team GB canoe slalom squad and it provides worldcalls training facilities for top competitors.
For sheer fun, however, the White Water Centre offers white water rafting,
kayaking, bell-boating, rescue training and sailing and it is the centre for a host of water-based pursuits, including powerboat trips on the River Tees and out to sea.
The centre runs team-building courses, challenging events for schools, colleges and private groups and even stag and hen white water rafting parties.
For those who prefer to take their leisure on dry land, the Ropner Park,
bequeathed to the people by Major Robert Ropner in 1890, provides a
tranquil sanctuary, resplendent following its renovation completed five
years ago thanks to a 2.65 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The nearby Preston Hall Museum and Park stand in 100 acres of beautiful
parkland and is itself undergoing a 6.6 million redevelopment due to be
completed this summer. The park, Quarry Wood Nature Reserve and
adventure play area all remain open.