ALMOST half a century after opening the first Tyne Tunnel, Queen Elizabeth II was back in North Tyneside yesterday to officially open the second one.
Hundreds of schoolchildren turned out to see the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh unveil a plaque in Howdon to declare the new tunnel open.
Wearing a peach dress and coat designed by Stewart Parvin and hat made by Rachel Trevor-Morgan, the Queen arrived in her state Bentley with Prince Philip and met various borough dignitaries and other North Tynesiders before delivering a speech to mark the new tunnel’s opening.
The 86-year-old’s return to the borough this week came 45 years after she declared the first vehicle Tyne Tunnel open back in 1967 and seven months after the new tunnel started carrying traffic.
The royal party first visited the tunnel’s southern exit in Jarrow, and while there, she got a wheelchair race under way and planted an oak tree.
She then headed to the north side of the £260m crossing to meet tunnel staff and do the honours at the opening ceremony.
In the speech, she said: “Forty-five years after I came here to open the first road tunnel under the river Tyne, Prince Philip and I are delighted to return for the official opening of Tyne Tunnel 2.
“I know that the first tunnel has made a huge difference to people’s lives in Tyneside, opening up access for many communities once so divided by this great river.
“As car ownership increased, the need for a second tunnel became clear.
“After some four years of construction using the latest technology, the highest standards of safety and a commendable attention to the needs of surrounding neighbourhoods, both tunnels opened to vehicles last November.
“And the task of relieving the congestion of traffic in Newcastle and Gateshead has undoubtedly been achieved, giving a better quality of life to residents, businesses and commuters.
“Time once lost to traffic jams can now be spent with family and friends.
“Now the project is complete, I would like to congratulate all those who have played a part – the planners, the financers, the engineers and contractors, everyone who has contributed to this great achievement of immense benefit to the north east region. You can all be proud of a job well done. I now have pleasure in declaring open Tyne Tunnel 2.”
Borough mayor Linda Arkley said: “It is a great time to be in North Tyneside. All the young people are here to take part in what is going on, and it is really great.
“Just being here and being part of the day is really lovely. I think all of us will go away thinking that she was here in North Tyneside and it is a great honour to have been part of that whole event.”
North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon said: “I remember 45 years ago when I was at school, my classmate was allowed to come and see the Queen and we were all in awe of him because he was lucky enough to come and see her.
“The children need to realise they have had a very rare experience of the Queen speaking in public. They have had a really unique experience. I felt very proud on behalf of North Tyneside.
“She asked me if this was my constituency. She is beautiful, and I think she was genuinely happy to be here. It was wonderful.”
Tynemouth florist Sue Robinson, owner of Busy Lizzies Flowers in Percy Park Road, was asked by Tyne Tunnel 2’s management to provide a posy for the Queen after doing one for the Princess Royal a few weeks back.
Lily Turnbull, of Tynemouth, was chosen to present the arrangement to the Queen.
The six-year-old, a pupil at Tynemouth’s Priory Primary School, said: “I gave her the flowers and said ‘hello’, and she said ‘thank you’ to me. It was fun.”
Dad Gary, also there with other daughter Ava, said: “She has been practising her curtsey.
“I am a very proud dad. We had never met the Queen before, so it is brilliant.”
Sue added: “It is a great honour to be asked to provide a flower arrangement that the Queen will be given. I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures of her with it.”
Volunteer soldiers from the fifth battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers took part in a parade at the north side of the tunnel.
Fusilier Alex Barrass said: “The Queen has come to visit our home town, and we are delighted to have been asked to attend and support her visit.
“We are here to aid with crowd safety, as well as to provide a presence and to show our support. It is a very special day, especially for the children, and it is wonderful to be involved.”
Air cadets from the 2344 Longbenton squadron played a fanfare as the Queen unveiled the new plaque.
Flight Lieutenant Gary Richardson said: “She gave us the royal nod of approval as she went past us.
“It was an honour for us to be invited and for the band to play.”