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Sunderland to rebid Wear bridge with 'simplified' contractor-led design

Sunderland City Council bosses have agreed to go back to the drawing board with the New Wear Crossing after plans for the £118M “landmark” bridge were scrapped earlier this month.

The council’s cabinet rubberstamped the decision to scrap the complex Techniker-designed cable stayed structure and go back out to tender for a simpler structure last week.

The decision was forced on officials after the two bids returned to build the bridge both came in well over the £118M budget. The original design resulted from a design competition and would have seen two slender, curving towers up to 187m tall supporting the 336m long deck.

But they would have been extremely complex to build.

In February NCE confirmed that Ferrovial and Balfour Beatty had pulled their bids, leaving just Northern Ireland-based Graham and Vinci of France in the running.

But neither could find a way to build the bridge to budget, forcing project bosses to rethink their plans.

This week the council’s cabinet was forced to agree that the current procurement process be “brought to an end on the basis of unaffordability”.

It has approved the start of a new procurement process on a design and build basis with the clear instruction for tenderers to come up with a “simplified” cable-stayed bridge design featuring a single tower.

The council believes a new-look bridge can still be built within the original project timeframe that would have seen construction finish in 2015. It is now aiming to issue prequalification notices in October, and tender documents in December with the aim of get tenders back by May 2014. The council’s cabinet would then pick a preferred bidder in July in the hope that the Department for Transport (DfT) will approve funds in September to allow contract award in October. The DfT had agreed to contribute £82.5M to the original scheme.

But bridge designers said that the new timetable was ambitious.

“They are back to square one in effect,” said independent bridge designer Simon Bourne. “It is difficult to see how it can be delivered in the existing timeframe. The redesign itself has got to be six months,” he said.

Bourne added that switching to a single mast would be an “eminently sensible, elegant cable stayed solution”, but to do even that meant the project needs a “massive redesign”.

He added that it should be easier for the council get back on budget. “You can get a perfectly well engineered solution for £20M and that would be easily within budget,” said Bourne. Sunderland was expecting to pay £55M for Techniker’s design.

“The scheme was just fundamentally wrong,” he added. “It is such a waste. But if they end up with a well-engineered and elegant bridge then it’s the right solution,” he said.

The new bridge is the centrepiece of the multi-million pound Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor (SSTC) and will cross the River Wear from Castletown on the north bank to Pallion to the south. It is designed to improve access to key employment sites, enhance their development potential and also to relieve general congestion on existing bridges.

“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,” said Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson.

“The simplified design for the bridge will continue to embrace modern and tasteful design qualities, while maximising tested engineering technology and construction techniques,” he said.

“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, Watson said.

“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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