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Spence Associates' competitionwinning River Wear bridge scheme appears to have been put on hold amid a smokescreen of funding and technical issues.

A year after Spence and engineer Techniker won the high-profile contest, the crossing seems no nearer being built and speculation is mounting that Sunderland City Council cannot afford the project.

Just months after the competition win, the authority asked the design team to try to cut the cost of the £43 million scheme so it could reassess the budget together with partners Sunderland arc and One NorthEast.

But with no obvious movement from the council since last December it seems the project, if not dead, is certainly dormant.

The veil of secrecy surrounding the crossing is fuelling the interest of gossipmongers who have been following the saga since it was first thrust into the spotlight.

Back in March 2004 there was much media coverage of the appointment of Frank Gehry to design the 'badly needed' fourth bridge over the Wear.

However the 'iconic' designs were never made public, and Gehry found himself in a six-way contest.

If you believe the rumours, when it came to picking a winner Sunderland arc was convinced it had managed to bag Gehry's scheme - the odds-on favourite to win.

But the chosen designs actually belonged to Stephen Spence and Techniker - designs which have never been released.

The delays have frustrated the pair, as have insinuations of technical problems.

A council spokesman said Techniker was told 'to develop some of the technical aspects of the design.'

Yet suggestions that the designs were technically defective have been strongly denied. A Techniker spokesman said: 'An exercise such as reducing costs requires technical investigation but there has never been any fitechnical issuefl.'

Despite rumours about whether Sunderland has the money for the crossing, the authority is maintaining that the route of 'a bridge' is safeguarded in the revised unitary development plan.

Meanwhile Spence and Techniker are holding their breath that their scheme doesn't go down the river like Gehry's.


March 2004 Frank Gehry agrees to design an 'iconic' fourth bridge over the River Wear for Sunderland city council.

April 2004 Gehry's plans for the River Wear bridge are placed on the back-burner by the council.

January 2005 The RIBA launches a competition calling for expressions of interest to design the River Wear bridge.

April 2005 A shortlist of six design teams is announced, which includes Wilkinson Eyre and, of course, Frank Gehry and Spence Associates.

September 2005 Spence Associates is announced as the competition winner (ajplus 22.09.05) along with engineer Techniker.

September 2006 Sunderland City Council remains tight-lipped over the future of the long-awaited fourth River Wear bridge, but insists that the scheme is not dead.

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