Sunderland road named in memory of late council leader Paul Watson sparks row

Paul Watson Way at the Northern Spire.
Paul Watson Way at the Northern Spire.

Two roads leading to Sunderland’s new Northern Spire Bridge have been named in tribute to city businessman Sir Tom Cowie and former council leader, Paul Watson.

But Liberal Democrats in the city have called for the public to “have their say” on naming roads in the city, after criticising the lack of council consultation around ‘Paul Watson Way’.

The late Councillor Paul Watson, who died in November.

The late Councillor Paul Watson, who died in November.

Liberal Democrat group leader on Sunderland City Council (SCC), Niall Hodson, added a policy is needed to allow the public to nominate those who they think should receive a similar honour.

This mechanism, he argued, would be an alternative to “just having Labour councillors deciding behind closed doors to name roads after themselves and their colleagues.”

Read more: 19 striking pictures of Sunderland’s Northern Spire bridge at night

“Maybe if they were consulted residents of the city would have backed the council’s plan for naming the new road to the Northern Spire Paul Watson Way, but there has been a lot of anger that no one was even asked about about it,” he said.

Niall Hodson, Sunderland Liberal Democrat.

Niall Hodson, Sunderland Liberal Democrat.

However, Labour bosses have hit back on the issue, stating SCC already welcomes and considers suggestions from the public for naming roads.

Deputy leader of SCC, Michael Mordey, said: “The city council has commemorated two local men – Sir Tom Cowie and Councillor Paul Watson – in two approach roads to the Northern Spire.

“These are two men from different ends of the political spectrum who both our loved our city (and) left a lasting impression, and so this is a fitting tribute.

“Other roads in our city, such as Keir Hardie Way or more recently St Nazaire Way, or even older names such as Fawcett Street, were named as reflections of local or international connections, or our city’s heritage.”

Paul Watson was first elected to the city’s Pallion ward in 1997, served as leader of the city council since 2008 and died at the age of 63 last year following a cancer battle.

In his time as council leader, he oversaw the council taking ownership of the landmark Vaux site and worked with major employers such as Nissan on Sunderland’s new city bridge.

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Cowies Way – on the south side of the Northern Spire – pays tribute to the late Sir Tom Cowie who was known for building the transport empire which became the Arriva Group.

The Sunderland-born entrepreneur – who also has a Sunderland University campus named after him –  was also a former chairman of Sunderland AFC and a Conservative party donor.

Other tributes to Sunderland figures include Barton Park housing development in Ryhope – named after wartime hero Cyril Barton in 2000 -and Besford Grove in Hendon which pays tribute to local strongman Joseph ‘Samson’ Besford.

A section of the A1290 also pays tribute to the first Labour party leader, Keir Hardie.

Millfield councillor, Niall Hodson, speaking on Paul Watson Way, added: “We’ll push for a mechanism for people to be able to make their own suggestions and have their say on any new roads in the city that are to be named after people.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service