Four construction companies have been invited to tender for the contract to build Sunderland's New Wear Crossing, which will be England's tallest bridge when it is completed.

The planning inspector's report for the £120 million project was signed off by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin earlier this week, and the local council can now move forward to the tendering stage.

It is reported that Balfour Beatty, Vinci, Ferrovial and Graham Construction are all in the mix, and the bidding process is expected to take around six months with work starting in spring next year.

The crossing will run from Castletown to Pallion and will be completed over the course of three years.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: "This is the biggest civil engineering project in the north-east and will sustain several hundred jobs across the city and region. It will now take several months to complete the tendering process. In the long-run it is estimated, and this was a key element of the bid to government, that it could help to create up to 6,000 jobs across the city.”

Fellow councillor James Blackburn, portfolio holder for city services, added: "The New Wear Crossing is a major civil engineering project. Work on the tenders and contract documentation reflects the scale and complexity of its planned construction. It is a project that can bring considerable economic and social benefits to the city and our region."

Sunderland City Council explained that the project is in line with its Economic Masterplan, and as part of its submission to the government it had to outline how the New Wear Crossing construction will deliver measurable public value and a return on investment at a ratio of £4 for every £1 invested.

It is also hoped that the bridge will become a new symbol for the region, helping to raise Sunderland's profile in the north-east, the UK and around Europe.

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