Footbridge image

A £31M vision for a ‘smart street bridge’ in Sunderland is set to move ahead, as the transformation of the city’s riverside gathers pace.   

Ambitious plans to deliver a high-level pedestrian and cycle bridge,  is expected to be approved by Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet this week, paving the way for the council to seek a design and build contractor.

Featuring a creative lighting and augmented reality, the crossing will allow people to use their smartphone to see virtual displays that council bosses say will create ‘an experiential bridge that will really bring to life the city’s digital ambitions’, the bridge will connect the transforming former Vaux Brewery site to Sheepfolds.  

Outline plans for the footbridge show a simple, elegant aesthetic, that council bosses say will frame the Wearmouth Bridge and complement the changing cityscape on Riverside Sunderland.  It will include creative lighting that will appear as a ‘shard of light’ in the evening, illuminating the green open spaces that flank the riverside below.  

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This street bridge represents a hugely significant piece of infrastructure that will bring together both sides of the river, something that is critical to our vision of creating a vibrant mixed-use community spanning the north and south of the Wear.  

“However, we’re determined to create a bridge that brings to life the ambition of the city, so integrating light, smart technology and excellent design will make this a really experience-led crossing, that will deliver a visual treat for people using it.  

“The city was named Smart City 2020, so it is apt that we integrate this into our developments to enrich our spaces and create a place that is future-focused and dynamic.  That is exactly what this bridge will be.”

The new crossing, which is likely to get started next summer, includes a high parapet and balustrades for safety.  It will stand at a height that ensures that river-use will not be restricted and will boast stunning vistas across the river and out to sea.  

Set to open in the first half of 2023, the crossing – which was warmly welcomed by Sunderland AFC players past and present when plans were revealed – will extend from the Keel Line, connecting to the banks of the Wear in the shadow of the Stadium of Light.  

Papers submitted to Sunderland’s Cabinet show that the council’s ambition is to use Port of Sunderland to transport the new crossing in sections, transporting them up-river to construct the bridge, something that will deliver maximum economic advantage to the area.

The footbridge – for use by pedestrians and cyclists – was mooted in 2019, and appeared in a transformational delivery plan for Riverside Sunderland revealed in October.  Stunning computer-generated images of the fully developed Riverside Sunderland released in October show two bridges crossing the River Wear.  The second crossing is expected to follow in the next ten years.

Cllr Miller added: “There can be no mistaking the level of ambition we have for Riverside Sunderland, and the pace of change in this part of the city is remarkable.  This bridge will be a real centrepiece, with a beautiful simplicity that allows for unspoilt views over the river and to the transforming landscape on both sides of it.”

The bridge will be in place in time for Sunderland’s month-long Future Living Expo, a high-profile event which will showcase life in the new urban quarter.  Thousands of people from the UK and around the world are expected to flock to the Expo to see the first of four new neighbourhoods on Riverside Sunderland, which will be built using innovative construction methods, and featuring cutting edge technology.  

The crossing is just one of a number of major developments revealed in the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan.  Other key highlights include plans to deliver:

  • 1,000 sustainable homes to rent and buy, in four stunning riverside neighbourhoods, housing 2,500 residents
  • One million sq ft of modern office space, in a new central business district, providing 8-10,000 new jobs
  • a new city centre site for a major life sciences / healthcare facility
  • Plans for a state-of-the-art library and community hub – the Culture House - that will attract 600,000 visitors a year to a new site in Keel Square
  • The upgrading of St Mary’s Boulevard into a stylish new main street
  • Transformation of Galley’s Gill into a superb landscape park, and new green spaces in the heart of the city
  • Smart City infrastructure, that will make Sunderland an even better place to live, work and play.

To find out more about Riverside Sunderland, and to keep up to date with the latest developments, visit