19 November 2008

Sunderland gets its iconic bridge. Or does it?

Time for another quick interruption to my ongoing dissection of all things Swiss.

Sunderland City Council have today announced their preferred design for the new River Wear Crossing, a project which has been rumbling on for some time and may finally be heading towards a resolution.

They've gone for the much-discussed iconic design by Stephen Spence and Techniker (pictured). This RIBA competition-winning design was kept secret for three years, before finally being unveiled in September, and then subject to a somewhat ill-informed public consultation.

Sunderland's decision to go along with the weight of public opinion leaves them with the not-so-minor difficulty of finding an extra £30m to pay for it.

The council's chief exec David Smith is quoted: "It's something that has never been done before in a shape and size like this. An international audience will be talking about Sunderland's bridge." They certainly will - although not necessarily for the reasons that Sunderland might imagine.

To their great credit, Sunderland now acknowledge that the current design may not survive further feasibility study and design development, and will be embarking on further work to "come up with a working design" and firm up the cost. This may apparently include "toning it down". It's not clear where this leaves Spence and Techniker, who might be somewhat disgruntled at someone else taking forward their competition winning bridge.

So, headline is that Sunderland will be getting its iconic bridge after all, but it's clear that this remains far from certain - the funding isn't in place, and the design could still be radically changed or even ditched.

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