Sunderland's Northern Spire bridge due to open next month
Sunderland's stunning new bridge is scheduled to open next month.
Finishing works on the cable-stayed Northern Spire are expected to take a few more weeks, with the bridge due to open to traffic by the end of August.
It was hoped the project would be complete in late spring this year, but the harsh weather during the first four months of the year meant work did not go as quickly as hoped.
During the past few weeks, the team has worked hard to make the most of the recent spell of good weather and are now finishing final paintwork on the pylon and carrying out final inspections.
Delays to the work had sparked rumours of problems with the project and Liberal Democrat Councillor George Smith asked Sunderland City Council Leader Coun Graeme Miller for an update at last month's full council meeting.
"We were told the bridge would open by spring 2018. But by the end of May, there were still no signs of opening. June has come and gone, and still nothing. We are in late July, and still none the wiser," said Coun Smith.
"The issue isn’t so much the delay. I know that building projects can have all sorts of unforeseen issues, and we’ve had bad weather this winter. Fair enough. The problem is the lack of transparency over the delay. I have heard some quite disturbing rumours that there are serious issues with the bridge structure, and that its delay will be indefinite."
But Coun Miller confirmed today the opening was imminent: "We appreciate that people are very eager to see Northern Spire complete and are curious as to when it will open to the public. We, too, are excited to see it in use," he said.
"The only substantive works remaining are painting and inspecting, so we are counting down to opening day.
"Of course, painting at height using high-level platforms dictates the speed at which the painting can happen and this is still sensitive to weather conditions, but we hope the good weather continues so that we can get these final works and the appropriate final inspections completed.
"While we all want to see Northern Spire in use as soon as possible, it’s important that we don’t compromise the finish by rushing to open. This project is far too important for that."
Northern Spire is the first bridge to be built over the River Wear in the city in more than 40 years. It will link Castletown to the north of the river with Pallion in the south and is part of a wider plan to improve the road network between the A19 and the Port of Sunderland and Sunderland City Centre.
Mark Jackson, Head of Infrastructure and Transport at Sunderland City Council, said: "We understand that people want to see Northern Spire open – and so do we – but we always said it would be a three-year project and it has been.
“Unfortunately, the weather was a big issue for us earlier this year and FVB, the main contractor, hasn’t been able to complete the painting in the time that we had all planned for.
"As a team, we have ensured throughout that the quality and finish of the bridge have remained at the heart of everything we have done, and that remains our main focus. Whilst we all want to see Northern Spire in use, we won’t let those standards slip in order to get it open before we think it’s ready.
"Whilst there are some minor works required before the bridge can open, such as cleaning the deck and commissioning the traffic lights, which will only take a few days, we are now purely painting and inspecting the pylon.
"The pylon is obviously a big structure, so it’s taking quite a bit of time, but we would rather give it the time it needs, while it’s fully closed.”
Mark said he believed Northern Spire would have a big impact on Sunderland. He added: “We will keep people informed and as soon as we can confirm an actual opening date, we will share it at the earliest opportunity. The bridge opening may be behind where we wanted it to be, but our long-term plan for Sunderland is still very much on schedule.”
Northern Spire has been designed and built to last at least 120 years. More than 2,000 people have worked on the project over the past three years - completing a million man-hours of work on site.
Stephen McCaffrey, Project Director for Farrans Construction and Victor Buck Steel Construction, which formed FVB Joint Venture to deliver the project on behalf of Sunderland City Council, said: "We feel enormously privileged to have been able to work on Northern Spire, so are immensely proud that we are entering the final stages of work.
"With a project of this size and nature, there were always going to be challenges, and we knew the weather was something we could do little about. The wind, rain and very cold temperatures were an issue for us earlier this year, but we are happy to be completing the finishing works on the deck and pylon.
"There will still be some minor works to complete once the bridge is open, but that is usual for large construction schemes like this. It’s been a project that I think all of us will remember for the rest of our careers."
Northern Spire is Phase Two of the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor, which aims to improve links between the A19 and Sunderland City Centre and the Port of Sunderland. Phase Three of the scheme has been granted planning permission and will run from where the Northern Spire phase ends onto the city centre, where Phase 1 along St Mary’s has already been completed.
The new dual carriageway delivered within Phase Three will go under the Queen Alexandra Bridge, through Deptford, and link into St Mary’s Boulevard, next to the Vaux site, opening up more development sites and opportunities along the river.
Work on the new road will begin next year and is expected to be finished and open to traffic in 2021.