Liberal Democrats on Wearside have reacted with fury at the news that Sunderland City Council will ask councillors to approve an £11.8million spend on a new road linking the Northern Spire bridge and the city centre.
The Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor (SSTC) initiative has been set up to improve transport links between the city centre and key employment sites.
It has consisted of three phases: improvement and realignment of the St Mary’s Boulevard, the construction of the Northern Spire Bridge and the construction of a road from St Mary’s Boulevard to the Northern Spire, passing through Deptford and Pallion.
Phase one has been finished and phase two is nearing completion.
The current approved scheme for phase three was £59million. However, following a review, the new estimated cost is now projected to be £70.8million.
This will mean that Sunderland City Council will have to find £11.8million to fund the gap.
This money is proposed to come from an underspend of £7.8million on the Northern Spire bridge and £4million from the Local Transport Programme Grant.
Previously, £1.6million had been allocated to the programme from the Local Transport Programme Grant.
However, Liberal Democrat campaigners have raised questions and concerns about the Council’s handling of the funding for this project.
Coun Niall Hodson accused the authority of being unable to “stick to a budget” but his words drew an angry response from Labour rival Amy Wilson, who said the Lib Dems had got their facts wrong in “a rush to grab a cheap political headline.”
Coun Hodson, councillor for Millfield and Thornholme, and Leader of the Liberal Democrat group commented: “Once again, we see the council demonstrating that they are unable to stick to a budget. The reasons put forward for the increase in costs have been very vague.
“Just where is the money being spent? There has been an appalling lack of transparency on this.”
Coun Hodson added: “I am also concerned about the fact that more money from the Local Transport Programme Grant is being poured into this scheme.”
Sunderland City Council Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, Coun Amy Wilson, hit back, saying: “This is another prime example of the local Lib Dems getting their facts completely wrong in their rush to grab a cheap political headline.
“As has been clearly been stated many times by the City Council the third phase of the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor is the next big infrastructure project for our city and is key to unlocking more economic growth and investment.
“If the minority party in opposition had a clearer understanding of local government, and indeed of our city, they would understand that this is not an overspend. You cannot overspend on a scheme, when you haven’t started construction.
“Anyone with the smallest amount of common sense can see that cost estimates on significant projects often rise from the initial business case, through the detailed design stage and finally onto contract award because of a whole range of factors.”