MORE than £800,000 earmarked for improving Sunderland city centre should be diverted to fix potholes and improve roads, say Wearside Tories.
Sunderland City Council assigned £1million to improve the Market Square two years ago and has spent about £200,000 of the cash so far.
The Conservatives tabled an amendment to the council’s budget for this year calling for the remaining Market Square cash to be spent instead on resurfacing roads left in a dire state by severe winter weather.
Land Securities, which owns the Bridges, announced on Monday it was to extend and improve the shopping centre’s entrance at Market Square – which Tories said would enhance the area.
Leader Tony Morrissey said: “The state of our roads is regularly the single greatest complaint from the public. Indeed, in a recent survey 52 per cent of respondents indicated they felt the state of the highways had worsened.”
The Barnes councillor said national figures from the Asphalt Industry Alliance showed £4.1billion was lost to the economy each year through damage to vehicles, making road resurfacing a more pressing issue than the Market Square.
He said the Government had promised to make £100million available for pothole repairs nationally, but a more permanent fix was needed.
He said: “While I think we all appreciate the extra funding for pothole repair, it is ultimately an elastoplast on a serious wound and resurfacing is by far the preferable, more durable and cost-effective treatment in most cases.”
He added: “£1.04million was allocated to the Market Square two years ago and £207,000 of the sum has already been spent to no obvious effect on the ground.”
“It’s an awful lot of money for a very short stretch of thoroughfare, and we hear on Monday that Land Securities are extending the Bridges further into Market Square.
“It leads one to ask if it’s worthwhile to redo the paving only for Land Securities contractors to dig it up straight after. We suggest this programme cease and the money be transferred to highway resurfacing.”
The Conservative amendment was ridiculed by Labour councillors and voted down at a meeting to discuss the budget.
Council leader Paul Watson said the Market Square revamp was an important project to improve the city centre business district.
The project includes new “high-quality” paving, feature lighting, power sockets which can be used for events equipment, and fixing points for moveable seats to “create a flexible space that can be adapted for a number of uses”.
Coun Watson said the £800,000 or so allocated for the Market Square could only pay for 0.5 per cent of the city’s highways to be resurfaced if the money was diverted.
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Morrissey said the council had set already aside about £1million for such work, which would fund only 0.6 per cent of highway resurfacing.
“Does it mean that isn’t worthwhile?” He said. “We’re not proposing to do 100 per cent of the roads.”
Bryan Charlton, the senior councillor responsible for making Sunderland a more prosperous city, agreed potholes were an important issue, but mocked Coun Morrissey’s amendment, claiming it was an attempt to score political points.
“I’ve never heard him mention potholes before – obviously there has been some sort of television programme about potholes that I’ve missed,” he said.
“Potholes are important. We all know that, but so is the city centre.”