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Sunderland scraps costly Wear bridge plans

11 Jul 13 Controversial designs for a new £120m bridge across the river Wear in Sunderland have been scrapped as the council finally got the message that it could not be built within budget.

The abandoned design
The abandoned design

Sunderland City Council had wanted to avoid a bog-standard box girder structure and gone for something artistic instead. Architect Stephen Spence and structures consultant Technika came up with a bridge that has two pointy cable stay towers of 180m and 140m height, that curve and taper without any fixed connection.

The design had won praise from some for its elegance, but criticism from others for being impractical and difficult to build.

Two of the four shortlisted bidders – Ferrovial and Balfour Beatty – dropped out of the bidding earlier this year, leaving just Vinci and Graham Construction in the frame. However, the council has been unable to finalise a deal with either of these two and has recognised that “the landmark design is unaffordable in its current form”.

This will be ratified next week at the next meeting of Sunderland City Council's cabinet.

The council said that it remained committed to building a new bridge but will now start work developing plans for a more conventional cable-stayed design “that can be delivered with existing funding, within the agreed timeframe and sit in the same footprint as the initial scheme”.

Council leader Paul Watson said: “While it is initially disappointing to learn that the unique design cannot be built within the budget available, we must now move forward positively towards our vision for a new Sunderland bridge, albeit by modifying our approach.

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“The simplified design for the bridge will continue to embrace modern and tasteful design qualities, whilst maximising tested engineering technology and construction techniques. The fact that it is of cable-stayed design means that by its nature it will have a striking quality to it. It will sit within the same footprint and deliver on all of the benefits of the initial design, by reducing traffic congestion, improving connectivity and unlocking brownfield land - with its potential to increase growth, jobs and investment.

“What is most important is that we deliver a new crossing over the Wear. I have no doubt that the project team will quickly rise to this fresh challenge and I hope the city will embrace the new design once we are in a position to release further details.

“When the landmark design was first suggested, the city and the UK economy were in a very different place. Given the current economic climate we will not be seeking further funding, instead we must review our plans and work within our means.

“Sunderland undoubtedly needs a new bridge over the Wear to unlock underutilised land and improve infrastructure, attract further investment, to support the city long term economic growth and prosperity, as well as that of the wider North East region. Delivering a new bridge as soon as possible is the priority for us now and a simplified design approach is the smart and achievable solution.”

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