Roker Pier has been closed since gale force winds and huge waves, breaking as high as the lighthouse itself, washed away more than 100 metres of railings together with the coping stones they were fixed into last November.

Repairs on the pier got underway three weeks ago and are due for completion before the end of the year. A number of the original granite coping stones which were recovered from the sea by divers using heavy lifting gear after the storm are being reused.

The work is being carried out by Durham based Hall Construction, while Deptford based Sunderland company Willowcrete is replacing 800 metres of modern railings with historic replicas.

This is in tandem with the construction of a new public access to the pier tunnel to allow it to open to tours for the first time in its history. The tunnel originally housed the gas pipes which ran the length of the pier and helped power the engines of the huge crane Goliath which was used in its construction.

It was later used by the lighthouse keeper to reach the lighthouse in stormy weather when the waves would have been crashing over the deck, and more recently to rescue anglers who have become trapped on the pier in bad weather.

Once finished, the entrance structure will feature glass panels and be faced in granite to complement that used in the pier.

Cabinet Secretary, Cllr Mel Speding, said: "Roker Pier is one of Sunderland's best loved landmarks and I know people have really missed being able to use it in recent months so I'm delighted to see the repairs going ahead and the work on the tunnel entrance structure progressing. And I'm especially pleased that two local contractors were successful in bidding for the work.

"We were due to launch the first tour of the lighthouse the very day we discovered the railings had been washed into the sea so November's storm damage was a real setback to our plans. But everyone involved in the project has remained as enthusiastic as ever and we're working to achieve access as soon as we can. 

"We'd always planned to replace the modern railings this summer as part of our wider restoration of the pier, but the extra work to prepare the technical specifications and procure a contractor following the tidal surge damage delayed the original start date.

"To an extent we're always at the mercy of the elements because we need to be sure of a stretch of decent weather to get the repairs carried out so the summer is an ideal time to do the work. 

"There's  been an enormous amount of enthusiasm around plans to open the tunnel and lighthouse to public tours so even though there's still a lot of work to be done it's really exciting to be getting closer to when we can make that happen."