New bridge is key to Sunderland’s success

MODEL BRIDGE:   Coun. Leader Paul Watson with plans for new bridge.

MODEL BRIDGE: Coun. Leader Paul Watson with plans for new bridge.

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THE new Enterprise Zone expected to bring thousands of jobs to the city would be hampered if the new Wear bridge does not get the go ahead, councillors heard.

Councillors backed a motion supporting the Government’s decision to award Sunderland and the North East with an Enterprise Zone along the A19 aimed at boosting low-carbon industries and advanced manufacturing.

The zones are designed to tempt in businesses with reduced business rates and simplified planning rules, with the aim of creating jobs and boosting the economies of towns and cities awarded them.

But Jim Blackburn, the senior councillor responsible for transport in Wearside, said failure to secure a new bridge across the Wear would limit the success of the scheme.

“Delay in securing the new crossing would have a negative impact on benefits of the Enterprise Zone and therefore employment growth and future income streams to the North East Economic Partnership, and increases in business rate income from the Enterprise Zone.”

He said failing to secure the bridge the scheme would also “compromise” access to the north side of the River Wear.

Coun Blackburn told last night’s meeting, at Sunderland Civic Centre, that the new bridge had a vital role to play in Wearside’s future regeneration.

He said it needed to beat congestion, provide better access to the city’s key development sites, provide reliable journey times for businesses and give the city a symbol of regeneration.

The last Government had pledged funding for the bridge, subject to certain criteria being met and processes being completed.

But the project’s future was thrown into doubt when it was caught up in the Coalition Government’s spending review. Sunderland City Council has now put in a further bid for funding from the Government’s development pool.

Coun Blackburn was speaking after Sunderland Conservatives laid down a motion praising the Government for its decision to bring the zone to the North East.

Tory leader Robert Oliver said the city and the region needed to build on its successes in manufacturing and diversify its economy which at present “stood on one leg”, and the zone would help the city succeed in doing so.

Coun Oliver said Detroit, Michigan, in the United States, which relied heavily on car manufacture and was hit hard when the industry struggled greatly during the financial crisis, served as a warning to cities such as Sunderland.

He said: “We don’t want to be another motor town where all our eggs are in one basket and end up where houses can be bought for $1 like down-town Detroit.”

Deputy Tory leader Peter Wood said there was a great need to double efforts in regenerating Sunderland city centre.

“Newcastle has its Alive after Five campaign, which sees people using its shops and businesses after 5pm,” he said. “There are parts of our city that are not even alive during the day.”

Labour councillors supported the spirit of the motion, but said the Enterprise Zone came as a “crumb of comfort” from a Government which was “smashing up” Sunderland with public funding cuts.

They paid tribute to council leader Paul Watson, who they said had sealed the deal on the Enterprize Zone during tough negotiations.