Warning over delays to new Wear bridge

An artist's impression of the proposed new Wear bridge.
An artist's impression of the proposed new Wear bridge.
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CONTRACTORS today warned ministers that delaying the new Wear bridge could contribute to a “catastrophic collapse” in the region’s civil engineering industry.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association North East (Ceca) has sounded the alarm over construction investment and said the new crossing was a much-needed major project which was crucially important to the industry.

In a letter sent on behalf of 5,000 civil engineering workers, Ceca has called on North East MPs and the Commons Transport Select Committee to press for its approval by the Government.

They also want to see the Morpeth northern bypass in Northumberland given the go ahead.

Douglas Kell, Ceca’s director in the North East, said: “The Sunderland and Morpeth projects are both able to go ahead at once if the Government’s share of investment is made immediately available.

“But should these two vital projects be blocked, we fear the long-term damage to industry employment in this region will take years to repair.

I don’t consider it exaggeration to say three weeks remain in which to save North East infrastructure industry from further crisis.”

The Government is due to make an announcement on funding for the landmark river crossing this month.

Labour ministers had earmarked cash for the bridge, but the project was not at the right stage for Sunderland Council to seal the deal before the Coalition Government announced its spending review.

The council has since submitted a revised funding bid for £82.5million and has been lobbying hard to secure the cash.

City leaders say the new bridge will unlock 6,000 jobs and generate £4 for every £1 it costs to build.

Supporters of the project say it will boost business links, connect key regeneration sites, underpin the new Enterprise Zone, attract investment and give Sunderland a landmark recognised across the globe.

Mr Kell said the bridge project was particularly pertinent given the “disappointing” outlook for civil engineers in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.

He said the sole committed investment in civil engineering in the North East was a £1.2million contribution to work at the Tees Valley Enterprise Zone.

He said: “While expansion of the Tyne and Wear Metro and electrifying of the Transpennine Express were both flagged by Mr Osborne as benefiting the region, it is not believed either will see additional construction investment as a result of the Autumn Statement

“By comparison, the North West had more than £1billion worth of projects approved in the statement.

“While work already under way in London on the Thames Link and Crossrail railway developments alone is expected at peak to generate up to £1.2billion worth of output, or up to six times more than the North East’s entire infrastructure figure now.”

He added: “Construction firms in the North East have already been hit harder by the downturn than others around the country, with a fall in activity of more than 27 per cent.”

Output in North East construction fell 28 per cent between 2008 and 2010 - more than double the fall in any other region – according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research

New construction orders for the region in the first half of 2011 were down by 41 per cent on last year, figures from the Office of National Statistics show.

The 41 per cent drop in orders compares with a seven per cent bounceback during 2010 in the industry as a whole.

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