A peek beneath Sunderland’s Roker Pier

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THERE’S light at the end of the tunnel for the team backing the restoration of Roker Pier.

Yesterday it was revealed Sunderland City Council has received £53,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop plans to reopen the tunnel, which runs beneath the north pier, to visitors.

Coun John Kelly (right) and Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, pictured during a visit to the pier tunnel that was built to allow access to the lighthouse during stormy seas.

Coun John Kelly (right) and Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, pictured during a visit to the pier tunnel that was built to allow access to the lighthouse during stormy seas.

The announcement was made as the historic building and walkway celebrated the 110 years since it opened.

The council received the funding, and initial backing, from HLF, to develop a conservation plan for the pier, as well as further design work, and a plan to manage and maintain the Grade Two listed construction, which it hopes will help it draw-up a more detailed funding bid in the next two years.

If plans go ahead, it will see the tunnel made accessible to visitors through a new entrance, and exit into the lighthouse.

The council announced the decision to invest £1.35million into the Roker Pier restoration programme in February, and began work to restore the lantern house last month.

Its next priority will be to start resurfacing the deck of the pier next year.

However, it needs to secure more funding to move ahead with the plans for a fuller regeneration of the pier.

The news was welcomed by the council yesterday.

Cabinet secretary Mel Speding has already welcomed the announcement, which will see one of the area’s best loved landmarks preserved for future generations.

At a visit into the tunnel yesterday he said the restoration work is important for the city.

“We are working to open the tunnel up so people can come down and explore it,” he said.

“And for school children to learn the history of the pier.

“If the work goes ahead it will all be made safer and easier for people to get down – rather than having to come down a ladder.”

Head of the HLF North East, Ivor Crowther, also visited the Roker Pier tunnel yesterday, to explain why the initial support has been given to the council.

He said the restoration of the Edwardian landmark is a necessary cause.

“We are supporting the council in developing the pier tunnel to allow people to come down and have a look inside,” he said.

“They will be able to look at the magnificent historical engineering that took place, and to create an education initiative around it to celebrate Sunderland’s maritime heritage, as it was one of the biggest national and international ship building towns in the world.”

The pier restoration is part of the bigger picture in terms of the ongoing regeneration of Sunderland’s seafront, which is set to see £5 million of investment over the next few years. A second phase of promenade improvements at Seaburn is due for completion this Autumn and further promenade improvements are also underway at Marine Walk, Roker.

The tunnel

THE secret entrance to the Roker Pier tunnel is hidden under a manhole marked only by a stripy yellow bollard, writes Monica Turnbull.

It doesn’t seem fitting of such a historic landmark, labelled a “triumph in engineering” when it was first opened, that you have to drop through the narrow opening, and climb down an 8ft ladder to stand in the 5ft 8in high construction.

Slightly nervous when told to don my wellies for the trip, I slapped on my hard hat and, in an undignified manner, made my way into the dark.

Clambering down we were told “mind your backs, there’s a bit of metal sticking out” – not very encouraging.

However, once in the tunnel, it wasn’t scary, just dark and damp.

Truthfully, there’s not much to see at the minute.

The lights in the tunnel – which takes about 20 minutes to walk along from the shore to the lighthouse – don’t work.

However, if plans do go ahead to restore it, a jaunt along the north pier in this way will be a good history lesson.

Now used by the RNLI for sea rescues, the tunnel was originally used by the lighthouse keeper in bad weather.

Making your way along it you can imagine him scampering down to turn on the original gas powered lantern which emitted a 45,000 candlepower reflected beam which, apparently, covered 15 miles out to sea. You have to wade shin-deep in water at the minute to journey along to the lighthouse, which stands 2,000ft out to sea.

But, if and when work is complete, hordes of visitors would enjoy a more dignified trip to learn more about this piece of rich coastal heritage.