SUNDERLAND’S city centre roadworks are up to four weeks behind schedule, the Echo can reveal.
But council chiefs have vowed lane closures on the realigned St Mary’s Way will end today, in time for the vital Christmas shopping period which kicks off with tomorrow’s lights switch-on.
Council cabinet secretary Coun Mel Speding admitted the work had hit unexpected delays.
“The final elements to create St Mary’s Boulevard are coming together,” he said.
“The main highway works will be substantially complete by November 12, ahead of late night shopping which starts on Thursday, November 13, the evening of the city centre lights switch on.
“After this, there will be some off-peak lane closures for short periods of time. Contractors are well aware we need two lanes open in both directions in this crucial trading period.
“We are working with them to make sure this happens.
“As with any major project, and particularly one in a busy city centre, there have been unknown and unforeseen factors that have delayed progress by between two and four weeks. For example, utilities such as phone lines, sewers and electricity cables have not always been as shown on the records once contractors have got into the ground, while abandoned services are sometimes not recorded at all.
“In such circumstances this can delay progress while contractors investigate the issues and find alternative options.”
Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association chairman Harry Collinson welcomed news the end was in sight for roadworks in the city centre.
“It has been a long, long 18 months,” he said. “I will be very pleased to hear that it is all done.
“We want people to ‘Shop Sunderland First,’ so we need them to have easy access.
“It is no good having free parking offers after 3pm if people can’t get into the car parks.”
Martin O’Neill, who runs Sweet Home Alabama in Fawcett Street, believes the council underestimated the effect on city centre businesses of works taking more than a year.
“I do late-night trading every day of the year and this has had a severe impact on my business,” he said.
“They did not anticipate the damage it would do to city centre businesses when they set as low a budget as possible.
“People who have started going to the MetroCentre or Boldon will not come back. I think this has probably done long-term harm to the business life of Sunderland.