Fears new road in Sunderland city centre will 'turn Blandford Street into an island'

A planned city centre road link has been approved by councillors – despite concerns it could “isolate” traders and turn a key shopping street into an “island”.

Sunderland City Council recently submitted an application to its own planning department for a road linking the west end of Blandford Street, Brougham Street and Maritime Terrace.

This includes a one-way clockwise gyratory system turning traffic from Holmeside onto Maritime Terrace and using the new road link, through to Brougham Street and Waterloo Place.

CGI visuals of how the new gyratory scheme and road link will look.

The plans aim to improve public transport infrastructure and connectivity in the area near Sunderland’s central railway station while also improving links to taxi ranks and a proposed multi-storey car park on Holmeside.

Road construction plans and associated landscaping works were recommended for approval by planning officers at a meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways (East) Committee on April 11, 2022.

While noting the regeneration benefits of the scheme, some councillors raised concerns about the plans introducing a busy traffic route across a pedestrianised area.

Councillor Gregory Peacock suggested the scheme could “isolate” retail units on Blandford Street by “encircling them” with a one-way traffic system.

CGI visuals of how the new gyratory scheme and road link will look.

He told the meeting: “I understand the one-way system and how that’s going to benefit motor vehicle users, it’s the pedestrians I’m concerned about.

“You’re effectively making Blandford Street into an island, where it’s a pedestrianised zone at the moment.”

Cllr Peacock went on to say: “This [planning] report suggests [the scheme] will be to enhance taxi use of the new train station, which is going to increase the amount of traffic.

“By coincidence I was in the town today and I walked up Blandford Street and it’s quite a well-used pedestrian zone.

Blandford Street in Sunderland city centre.

“If you want to put quite a busy roadway in there […] there has got to be safety concerns there as well as the footfall impacts on Blandford Street”.

The planning application falls against a backdrop of regeneration plans for the Holmeside area, which includes the multi-million pound redevelopment of Sunderland’s Central Station.

Council planning officers acknowledged Blandford Street, like other city centre streets, had been impacted by Covid-19 with a number of closed units on the shopping terrace.

However they confirmed that this issue was not a material planning consideration as part of the application for the new road link.

The council’s highways officer added that the development was a “key component” of the rail station development and other proposals and would “help facilitate and improve access” around Holmeside.

Councillors heard that the design of the scheme would provide safe crossing points for pedestrians and that businesses would be consulted on changes to traffic regulation orders.

Following debate, the plans for the new road link won unanimous support from the Planning and Highways (East) Committee.

Councillor Lyall Reed said that “any improvement to Blandford Street is an absolute improvement to Blandford Street”.

He told the meeting : “The current road networks around the railway station are probably quite inadequate and the extension of it to this degree will improve the area to no end in my opinion.”

But councillor James Doyle remained concerned about the plans “effectively taking space away from pedestrians” while also “isolating some retail units”.

Cllr Doyle went on to say: “I think it’s important to take into account the fact that we’re improving connectivity but I don’t accept the argument that it’s improving connectivity for people on foot.

“In the [planning] balance, we probably will have to accept this application and I think in terms of policy it is compliant.

“But if I were sat in the cabinet making decisions about what should happen on Holmeside I probably wouldn’t have proposed this.”

Under planning conditions, work on the new road link must take place within three years.