£133m iconic bridge a step closer

Sunderland Council is poised to approve plans to build the country's tallest bridge over the Wear.

Architect Stephen Spence and engineering firm Techniker will visit Wearside next week as proposals for the dazzling 133million structure move closer to reality.

Senior councillors will also meet to discuss wider plans for a new congestion-cutting road system – the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor – which regeneration experts say could help bring 10,000 jobs to Wearside.

Once given approval, council chiefs will push ahead with preparations to build the 180metre bridge between Pallion and Castletown and prepare a planning application for the project.

Development officers say more work has been carried out to prove Spence's competition-winning design is not only workable and affordable but would give the city a massive boost.

"The landmark design bridge would provide a new and distinctive landmark and symbol for the city that would become recognised nationally and internationally," their report states.

"It supports the city's aspirations to attract more residents and investment by becoming better known as an attractive place to live, work, visit and invest, and would enhance the prospects for the regeneration of the riverside."

Sunderland City Council is prepared to pump 23million into the bridge and its approach roads, and the Government has already promised 98million to build a new river crossing.

One NorthEast (One) has pledged 3.196million to build some form of bridge in Sunderland. A further 8.9million is in the offing if the council chooses to build the iconic option, but One says this is not yet a cast-iron guarantee.

Construction could start by 2012, but the future of the landmark structure still depends on securing planning consent and getting final approval from the Department for Transport once all finance is in place.

Wearside's ruling cabinet will examine a report on the economic benefits, public support, construction plans and financial costs for the landmark bridge at Wednesday's meeting.

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson said: "In consultation last year, people in Sunderland said they liked the idea of a landmark design and wanted to keep any impact on council tax bills to a minimum.

"The cabinet agreed that more details on construction, design and maintenance costs should be completed."

The Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor and bridge plans are part of a new link from the A19 trunk road into central Sunderland and the Port of Sunderland. They are designed to improve access to major regeneration sites, including Vaux, as well as relieve congestion on the existing bridges.

The cabinet meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 9, at 2pm, in committee room one at Sunderland Civic Centre. It is open to the public.