England's tallest bridge The tallest bridge in England is set to join the country's long list of famous northern landmarks, slung from two slender columns across the river Wear. Curved in a fingers-crossed design, unwittingly reflecting years of searching for the cash to build it, the crossing in Sunderland will tower above other lofty icons, including the Angel of the North. Prosaically listed as the New Wear Crossing in the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor, it will stand 187 metres (613ft) – taller than Blackpool Tower, at 158 metres, and approaching four times the height of Nelson's 51-metre column. Once building starts, a competition will help find the bridge a handy nickname. The sensational design, given planning approval today by Sunderland council, dates back five years but was kept under wraps until 2008, to avoid disappointment if funding failed. A government promise of £98m for an off-the-peg bridge freed the council to ask residents if it could add £32m for something special. They looked at the mock-ups and gave a big yes vote. "It will be a people's bridge," said Sunderland's Labour council leader, Paul Watson, who is hoping to preempt less dignified slang for the striking silhouette. Horny Bridge is one contender, reflecting the curving shape of the two towers, but a claim that the suspension wires would play the Geordie anthem Blaydon Races in high winds proved to be the Sunderland Echo's April fool. Although designed to ease traffic and help regeneration of former shipyard and engineering sites, the bridge is a deliberate attempt to give Sunderland a lift. Watson said: "It will be a distinctive new symbol for the city, help raise our profile and the potential for greater prosperity." Sunderland already has a beautiful riverscape where the Ghyll [aka Galley's Gill] meets the Wear, embellished by the Winter Gardens, National Glass Centre and university buildings. But it looks jealously across at the Tyne's bridges, as well as the Angel, Sage concert hall and Baltic gallery. Stephen Spence, architect of the new bridge, who also designed the graceful double curve of the Infinity bridge in Stockton-on-Tees, said: "This is positive and bold. It's particularly pleasing to see the support from the community." The last, nervy wait for the Wear bridge will be the post-election period, but all parties have suggested that they would not pull the financial plug. Labour is involved in a battle to defend Sunderland Central from a Tory challenge led by the party's group leader on the council. The council has planned to start work on the bridge in 2012, with completion due in 2015, but the local funding is potentially vulnerable because of Tory hostility to regional development agencies. The local development agency, One North East, has pledged £3.1m for the bridge; the loss of that could affect Sunderland's own contribution of £19.1m as well as a further £12.8m from the government's local transport plan for the north-east.
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