Northern Spire Bridge

The Northern Spire Bridge is a bridge over the River Wear in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear. The crossing opened on 28 August 2018. A three-span cable-stayed structure, construction began in May 2015, overseen by Farrans Construction and Victor Buyck Steel Construction.

Northern Spire Bridge
The Bridge shortly after opening
Coordinates54.9167°N 1.4244°W / 54.9167; -1.4244
OS grid referenceNZ369581
CrossesRiver Wear
OwnerSunderland City Council
Maintained bySunderland City Council
Preceded byQueen Alexandra Bridge
Followed byHylton Viaduct
DesignCable-stayed bridge
MaterialSteel and reinforced concrete
Total length336 m (1,102 ft)
Width25 m (82 ft)
Height105 m (344 ft)
Longest span240 m (790 ft)
Piers in water1
No. of lanes4
Constructed byFarrans Construction
Fabrication byVictor Buyck Steel Construction
Construction startMay 2015
Construction end2018
Construction cost£117.6 million
Opened28 August 2018 (2018-08-28)
Northern Spire Bridge
Location in Tyne and Wear

A crossing had been proposed as early as 2005, however financial uncertainties caused significant delay until funding was approved by HM Treasury. Originally an ambitious design was selected, but was later dropped after several contractors withdrew.[1] In 2014, the project switched to a cheaper cable-stayed design.


The bridge has been constructed to the west side of the city over the River Wear, with the purpose of reducing traffic congestion.[2] It was designed by Spence Associates in partnership with structural engineering firm Techniker.[3] The bridge was first designed in 2005, but it was kept confidential for several years by the City Council to avoid a rise in expectations until funding was secured. The council was also considering plans for a cheaper, basic beam bridge design.[4] The cost of the Spence design was estimated at £133 million for the bridge and the associated approaches and roadworks.[5]

The crossing forms part of the regeneration plan produced by Sunderland Arc, whose aim was to use the bridge as part of a Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor to improve transport links and to improve the city's image.[2] In 2017, following a public consultation and vote, the crossing was named the Northern Spire Bridge.

Background and history

In 2003 the Urban Regeneration Company Sunderland arc commissioned the engineering firm Arup to assist with finding a suitable location for the siting of a new road bridge over the River Wear. In 2004 the American Architect Frank Gehry undertook a study for this new river crossing. An international design competition was organised by Sunderland Arc in 2005. Several submissions were made, including one by Frank Gehry, but it was the cable-stayed design of Spence Associated that won.

In 2008, Sunderland City Council held a public consultation on the designs to see if the public would prefer the Spence design to a more basic beam bridge.[6] The consultation showed that people in the Sunderland area were in favour of the Spence design.[7][8] The council decided to back the Spence design and abandon the cheaper beam bridge option.[9] They justified their decision on the grounds that the more ambitious design would attract more businesses to the city and thus create more jobs.[10] The United Kingdom government then announced a contribution of £93 million towards construction[11] and the regional development agency One NorthEast pledged another £8.5 million, with the council funding the remaining £23 million required.[12]

The decision to build the Spence design became official Sunderland City Council policy on 9 September 2009.[13] In November 2009, public notices on the compulsory purchase of land and new rights for the project were published including side roads orders and bridge schemes notices, made under the Highways Act 1980.[14] An official planning application[15] was placed with Sunderland City Council on 7 December 2009 with a consultation expiry date of 29 October 2010. Construction was timetabled to start around 2012.[16]

On 26 May 2010 Sunderland City Council approved the planning application and the project appeared ready to go ahead.[15] However, by July 2013 construction still had not begun, due to difficulty in producing the design at the approved funding level; several contractors withdrew from the project.[17] This led to a reassessment of the design, which dropped the Spence plan in favour of a simpler cable-stayed design.[18]

Roughan & O’Donovan and Buro Happold delivered the preliminary and detailed design of the bridge.

On 1011 February 2017, the central pylon was installed which stands at a height of 105 m (344 ft), making it the tallest structure in Sunderland.

The raising of the bridge pylon marked the culmination of two years of design and planning and twelve months of fabricating.


  1. Hoyland, Trevor (1 December 2008). "Next step in road to iconic Wear bridge". Sunderland Echo. Johnston Press. ISSN 0963-8997. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  2. "Regeneration projects: SSTC". Sunderland Arc. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  3. James, Paul (20 November 2008). "Landmark Wear bridge to be Sunderland's symbol". The Journal. Newcastle upon Tyne: Trinity Mirror. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  4. Vaughan, Richard (12 September 2008). "Spence Associates' Wear Bridge comes face to face with 'basic' rival". Architects' Journal. London: Metropolis International. ISSN 0003-8466. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  5. "A new bridge for Sunderland". Sunderland City Council. Archived from the original on 18 November 2009. Retrieved 15 November 2009.
  6. "A new bridge for Sunderland". Sunderland City Council. Archived from the original on 18 November 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  7. "New Wear Bridge Decision". Sunderland City Council. Archived from the original on 4 January 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  8. "Communities give their bridge views". Sunderland Arc. 10 July 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  9. "Council backs iconic Wear bridge despite the expense". New Civil Engineer. Metropolis International. 26 November 2008. ISSN 0307-7683. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  10. "Bridge will be England's tallest". BBC News. BBC. 3 September 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  11. "Funding for new Wear crossing approved". Sunderland Arc. 31 July 2008. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  12. "£133m iconic bridge a step closer". Sunderland Echo. Johnston Press. 3 September 2009. ISSN 0963-8997. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  13. Robertson, Ross (10 September 2009). "'People's bridge'gets the go-ahead". Sunderland Echo. Johnston Press. ISSN 0963-8997. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  14. "New Wear Bridge". Sunderland City Council. Retrieved 6 November 2009.
  15. "09/04661/LAP Planning Application". Sunderland City Council. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
  16. "Striking design for new Wear bridge". New Start. 10 July 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  17. "Sunderland City Council scraps plan to build £118million bridge across the Wear". Sunderland Echo. Johnston Press. 14 July 2014. ISSN 0963-8997. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  18. "How the new £118m Sunderland bridge might look". Sunderland Echo. Johnston Press. 4 May 2014. ISSN 0963-8997. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
Next bridge upstream River Wear Next bridge downstream
Hylton Viaduct
A19 road 
Northern Spire Bridge
Grid reference: NZ369581
Queen Alexandra Bridge
B1539 road 
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