MULTIMILLION-POUND plans to build a landmark bridge over the River Wear can go ahead after being given the green light by a Government Minister.
Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, has now signed off on the Castletown-Pallion crossing, with work expected to begin in the next 12 months.
A crucial stage of the bid had already been completed, with senior members of Sunderland City Council’s ruling cabinet approving its implementation after it was earlier granted planning permission.
Last year, the Government also announced it was prepared to put more than £80million towards the scheme for the structure and its approach roads.
The project could cost up to £120million, with the council also supporting it.
Now an inspector’s report of a public inquiry has been passed by the Department for Transport, allowing the local authority to move to the tendering process.
City leaders hope the bridge will create 6,000 jobs and generate £4 for every £1 it costs to build.
Supporters of the project also say it will boost business links, connect key regeneration sites, underpin the new Enterprise Zone, attract investment and give Wearside a landmark recognised across the globe.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson said that four construction firms have been shortlisted to be invited to tender for the project contract, following a pre-qualification exercise.
The tender documents are set to be issued this month.
“This is the biggest civil engineering project in the North East and will sustain several hundred jobs across the city and region,” he said.
“It will now take several months to complete the tendering process.
“In the long-run it is estimated, and this was a key element of the bid to Government, that it could help to create up to 6,000 jobs across the city.”
Coun James Blackburn, cabinet member for city services, said that by improving links from the A19 to the city centre and the Port of Sunderland, the project will open up new areas of development land along the south of the river.
This will increase regeneration opportunities for both businesses and residents.
“The New Wear Crossing is a major civil engineering project.
“Work on the tenders and contract documentation reflects the scale and complexity of its planned construction.
“It is a project that can bring considerable economic and social benefits to the city and our region.”
The council hopes to complete the tendering processes in the next six months.
Construction could start in the spring of 2013, taking about three years to complete.
Coun Robert Oliver, leader of Sunderland Conservatives, said the bridge was essential to unlocking economic growth in the region as well as attracting further investment on Wearside.
“This is very good news for the city,” he said.
“Now that the bridge is finally confirmed to go ahead, the council can move to the tendering process and take bids from companies that are interested in construction work.
“This is a major stimulus for the city and we hope it will allow the council to start creating jobs.”
Coun Oliver, who had previously called for the Transport Secretary to give the bridge the green light, said the Government had made “a very positive decision”.
“The process has to be followed through very carefully,” he said.
“Everyone, the council and all political parties, have been keen to see plans in place for the bridge.
“We all wanted to see it given final approval as quickly as possible.”