SUNDERLAND’S new landmark bridge is to become a reality.
Today civic leaders, MPs, leading businessmen and women and Wearsiders welcomed the announcement that will change the face of the city and bring thousands of jobs.
Department for Transport (DfT) chiefs have confirmed an £82.5million grant that will help make the much-touted “iconic bridge” project a reality.
And work could begin as early as next year, with the new crossing due to open to traffic as early as 2015.
Plans for the new bridge have been on the drawing board since the 1980s but there had been fears the Government’s wave of public sector spending cuts had killed off the project.
But Sunderland City Council put in a bid for funding in September after the Government said that £630million was being made available for local authority projects that could help boost economic growth and create jobs.
The council believes the project – which will link Castletown on the north bank of the Wear to Pallion on the south – will generate £4 in economic benefit for every £1 it costs.
Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The investment in a strategic infrastructure scheme will open up regeneration sites along the River Wear and bring forward investment to Sunderland.
“We see this project as an integral part of Sunderland’s ongoing regeneration as it can help create thousands of new jobs by improving links between the A19, the city centre and the Port of Sunderland.
“This announcement is great news for Sunderland and the wider region.
“There has been talk for a long time that Sunderland has needed a major new road crossing over the River Wear.
“This is an issue that has not gone away and I know the city and region is grateful for this opportunity to start work on this landmark project.
“The bold design of the new bridge is architecturally significant; it will become a confident and symbolic landmark for Sunderland and the North East.
“We can now look to a major development that adds to Sunderland’s vibrancy and furthers the regeneration of our city.”
Subject to the outcome of a public inquiry on Compulsory Purchase Orders, work on tenders and contracts could start in the new year with on-site and construction works beginning later in 2012.
Some of Wearside’s most prominent business leaders believe the project will play a key role in boosting the city’s fortunes.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), said: “This project will help to unlock growth and enterprise while contributing to the regeneration of key parts of the city.”
Gary Hutchinson, chairman of the chamber’s Sunderland committee, said: “Obviously, after much work behind the scenes and previous disappointments, it is excellent to see such a landmark development being approved by the Government.
“This type of development will not only enhance the city but will attract much-needed inward investment. This is excellent news to mark the end of what has not been the best 2011 in terms of the economy.”
News that both the new bridge across the Wear and a northern bypass for Morpeth were to go ahead was greeted with relief by the North East civil engineering industry.
The industry had warned that it faced potential “catastrophic collapse” in the region unless both projects were approved before the end of the year.
Paul Woolston, chairman of the North Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Greater connectivity through Sunderland from the A19 is a boost not only to Sunderland but for the rest of the North East.
“As the development of the North East’s Low Carbon Economic Zone gathers pace the new bridge, which is close to the designated A19 corridor, will be a boost for construction, will open up more land in our region for development and improve links to the city centre, south bank of the River Wear and the Port of Sunderland.”
Click here to take a video tour of the new bridge.
Facts and Figures
* The bridge is designed by North East architect Stephen Spence in association with structural engineers Techniker
* It will be the tallest bridge in England and Wales, with the highest tower measuring 187m
* The length of the bridge deck is 336m
* The width of the bridge deck is 30m
* The bridge will carry four lanes of traffic – two in each direction – and have dedicated pedestrian and cycle ways
* The construction timetable is 2012 – 2015
* The new bridge and roads total 3.2km in length