CITY centre businesses will be hit hard if work on St Mary’s Way over-runs into the peak Christmas period, council bosses have been warned.
City council leader Coun Paul Watson and senior officials faced a grilling from businesses at a question-and-answer session organised by the Sunderland City Centre Traders Association.
Maria Patterson, from Holmeside-based Aphrodite Clothing, said business had been hit hard last December, with shoppers opting not to come into town because of the roadworks.
Work is due to be completed well before Christmas but what would happen in the event it did not run to schedule, she asked: “If it does over-run, what plans are in place to ensure we don’t have that situation with traffic problems again?
“It was taking over 45 minutes to get into town. If that happens again this Christmas, we might as well shut up shop.”
Council deputy chief executive Janet Johnson said the work was expected to finish on time, ahead of the Christmas shopping period.
“The work is due to complete in the timescale we set,” she said.
“The road itself is essentially finished. The works happening now are around the southern bridge head.”
Asked whether the council would see a return on the £11.8million cost of the road scheme, Coun Watson said it was impossible to offer any guarantees, but the improvements to the network were essential if Sunderland was to open up the port for business and attract more high-quality jobs into the city centre.
Sunderland had done well to recover from the loss of its traditional industries but the recovery had come at a cost to the city centre. Wearmouth Colliery and the shipyards along the Wear had employed thousands of people who passed through the city centre every day on their way to and from work.
“In the 80s and 90s, those things shut – it was probably worse than the effect of the last recession,” said Coun Watson.
“We were devastated. We did not have anything to make us want to be here.
“But the university came, we got city status, we built the Winter Gardens and the National Glass Centre. Things gradually started moving again.”
The city centre had suffered because the new industries which came to Wearside had been located on the fringes of the city, around Nissan or in enterprise parks such as Doxford International and Rainton Bridge. Developing the Vaux site would help to change that.
“One thing the city centre actually lacks is a modern commercial heart,” he said.
“We need a place that modern, vibrant businesses will be attracted to, with office space of 21st Century quality, where bigger businesses will want to be.
“It is not enough to offer them old Edwardian and Victorian terraces.”