WORK is well under way to transform The Bridges.
The £15million expansion will create a huge new Primark store and a new entrance to the centre on High Street West.
Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson, and key figures from centre owner Land Securities, were joined by representatives from contractor Morgan Sindall to officially kick off work on site.
The High Street West entrance to the centre has been fenced off, and hoarding has gone up as work gets under way on the three-storey expansion.
The start of the planned improvements has generated about 150 jobs and Land Securities is encouraging the use of North East resources during the construction phase of the project.
“It’s exciting times at The Bridges,” said portfolio director Gerald Jennings.
“The start of construction work signifies that the transformation has begun.
“In no time at all we’re going to be the proud owners of an even bigger and greater shopping centre, which I know all our shoppers will enjoy and appreciate.”
He added: “We’ve said all along that we’ll work closely with Sunderland City Council to create a viable extension strategy, and that we’re committed to making it happen.
“Today clearly demonstrates we’re delivering on our promise – despite tough times – Land Securities is investing, expanding and developing in the heart of Sunderland.”
Councillor Watson said: “The further expansion of The Bridges is a vote of confidence in Sunderland city centre, as well as being great news for shoppers.
“To see a development of this size taking place in the middle of a worldwide economic downturn is quite phenomenal.
“Coming as it does just a week after the city’s independent shops were judged sixth best in Britain, it is further evidence that Sunderland is very much open for business.”
The work is due to be completed next July.