Bid to bridge funding gap

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PLANS for a multi-million pound road scheme to boost Wearside’s economy have been shelved after council chiefs accepted there is no cash available to pay for it.

The 3.5-mile Sunderland Central Route would link the A182 near Shiney Row with the B1284 near Rainton Bridge, cutting congestion in Fence Houses, Philadelphia and Newbottle, improving access to the Rainton Bridge business park and helping with the regeneration of the former Lambton Cokeworks site.

But now the scheme has been out on ice as a result of the Coalition Government’s spending cuts, as the council concentrates on plans for a new Wear crossing.

Ron Odunaiya, the council’s executive director of city services, emphasised that the authority had not given up on the scheme, but was looking for new ways to pay for it after withdrawing an application for funding from the Department for Transport:

“The city council remains committed to the development of the Central Route,” he said.

“However, we have taken the pragmatic view that it is highly unlikely that Government will fund the progression of the route in the current economic climate.

“Although, after careful consideration, the council is not submitting an expression of interest for the Central Route at this time, we are pursuing the development through private sector contributions.

“This is demonstrated by the current work at the site of the Lambton Cokeworks that is being delivered by the Bellway Group, with the support of the council and the Homes and Communities Agency. This is planned to open later this year.

“We have also made it clear to the Department for Transport that we are committed to submitting an application for funding to implement the remaining sections of the scheme at the next available opportunity. This is likely to coincide with the next comprehensive spending review.”

Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson said: “I am disappointed it hasn’t been possible at this point to progress the Central Route project but given the cuts within the Department for Transport, the council were put in a difficult position.

“However I do appreciate their continued commitment to securing funding in the future.”

And Jonathan Walker, head of member relations at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was a reflection of economic reality.

He said: “High quality transport routes are a priority for businesses across the North East so it is disappointing to see this planned scheme put on hold, but the climate for Central Government funding is very different now than when this scheme was first developed and there is clearly a need to prioritise.

“While we welcome the commitment to build partnerships with the private sector to see other projects through to fruition, there is a very real need for the limited Central Government funding that is available to be invested in programmes that will have the most significant economic potential.”