Shops claim ‘road chaos’ has halved trade in Sunderland city centre

Martin O'Neill of Sweet Home Alabama, and a traffic congested Fawcett Street, Sunderland.
Martin O'Neill of Sweet Home Alabama, and a traffic congested Fawcett Street, Sunderland.
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TRADERS claim road chaos is putting the brakes on people coming into the city centre.

Work to realign St Mary’s Way and create a new public square outside the city magistrates court, has been under way for more than a year.

However, traders in Fawcett Street and High Street West say the work is causing gridlock and putting shoppers off venturing into Sunderland.

On Thursday the problem was compounded, when traffic light problems brought the city centre to a standstill.

Sweet Home Alabama boss Martin O’Neill, said: “It has been like this for two weeks. It is just horrendous.

“I am 40, sometimes 50 per cent down year-on-year.

“It’s a whole calendar year now since they started and there does not seem to be any sense of urgency to get this work finished. They don’t seem to care about the effect in the middle of the city.

“I really can’t believe any other city would allow this chaos to go on for a whole year.”

Martin fears the loss of business could be permanent.

“People are voting with their cars,” he added. “They are not coming into Sunderland because it is just too difficult, and once they establish a routine of going to Boldon for the cinema, or going to the MetroCentre, that is what they will do in future.”

Colin Jarvis, who runs Nutters hairdressers around the corner in High Street West, said he lost business as a result of Thursday’s jams.

“Fawcett Street must have had 20 or 30 buses jammed together because there is nowhere for them to go,” he said. “I have had customers ringing up and cancelling because they can’t get into town, the traffic is so bad.

“You look at Fawcett Street and it’s full of buses, you look at Holmeside and that’s full of buses, the ring road is full of cars. Business is bad enough without all this.”

Andrew Tyldsley, commercial manager of bus operator Go NorthEast, said the firm was working with the council, but delays had been getting worse.

“We realise work has to be done, but we want to minimise the effect on services and passengers,” he said.

“We just don’t quite understand why it is as bad as it is.”

Council bosses said Thursday’s problems were because of a problem with the traffic lights at the top of Bedford Street/West Wear Street.

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said: “Realigning such a busy route as St Mary’s Way and Livingstone Road is inevitably causing disruption, and while there is clearly a long-term gain for the city and its businesses, we want to reduce short-term disruption to drivers and businesses as far as possible.

“The City Council has continued to work closely with the contractor throughout the realignment project to monitor the traffic situation.

“There are major junction works underway now on the roundabout to the south of Wearmouth Bridge and this is having an effect on traffic flows onto the bridge, this is the final section of the new boulevard scheme.

“Action to keep the traffic flows moving is being taken, including technicians operating the lights manually to clear traffic that has backed up. While this final phase completes drivers are advised to use Queen Alexandra Bridge if they can, during busy times.

“Work to the roundabout to the south of the bridge will be ongoing for the next few weeks, completing in late summer, prior to the completion of the new boulevard in autumn.

“Where possible, most work to this roundabout section will be off peak (after 9am and before 4pm) with traffic reducing to one lane on occasion.

“This is with the exception of Sunday, August 17, when Wearmouth Bridge will close for 24 hours for resurfacing work.

“There will be a full road and bridge closure from 7am on Sunday to 7am on Monday.”

Wearmouth Bridge will also close overnight from 7.30pm–6am each night from August 18 to 22.

“We thank drivers and business owners for their continued patience, please be assured that the City Council will continue to work with contractors to do what it can to keep traffic flows moving,” said Coun Watson.