Sunderland – changing perceptions, raising aspirations 

Commercial property writer Chris Dobson reflects on some of the exciting activity happening in Sunderland, which, he maintains, the whole of the North East should take pride in

Twenty-one years ago I wrote in Estates Times about ‘the emergence of old points of criticism and opposition from some local authorities towards the work being carried out by Tyne & Wear Development Corporation’.

Time, it seems, changes some things but not everything and today’s devolution saga illustrates continuing conflict between parts of the region. The challenges those 21 years ago remain pretty much the same today.

Regional devolution with, for example, Sunderland happily working with Newcastle, will not happen. To borrow a sporting phrase, this has been kicked into touch.

Tribalism should of course be removed from the agenda because its very existence causes dissent and blurs positive stories such as that of Sunderland’s Doxford International Business Park, which has been an immense success, and, through Sunderland’s hard working and flexible workforce, that of Nissan, Europe’s most efficient car manufacturing plant.

I suggest that the 4000 jobs created at the time and 30 companies in the supply chain those 21 years ago would not have been forecast to grow to 7000 plus today with some 30,000 in the supply chain.

This is remarkable and says a lot about this city. With ‘All together Sunderland!’ branding which is all about ‘changing perceptions, raising aspirations’, Sunderland is clearly moving forward on the sound foundations of its university, the National Glass Centre, The Bridges shopping centre and other developments.

Work recently started on the site of the hugely important Vaux development. The long-awaited city centre project is the first of five areas of the city – Vaux, Seaburn, Chapel Garth, Farringdon Row and Numbers Garth – to be developed in a 20-year regeneration scheme managed by Siglion, the development and regeneration partnership comprising Carillion and Sunderland City Council, managed by Igloo Regeneration.

Vaux will include office, retail, residential and leisure space – all of it long awaited – the site has been empty since 1999.

Central to the plans for the £20 million construction of phase one is a 60,000 sq ft office building – ‘The Beam’ – at the heart of the 5.5-hectare site, along with infrastructure work. This first building at Vaux is due to be completed in June 2018, in time for the Tall Ship Race’s visit to Sunderland.

Siglion chief executive John Seager says: “It’s a huge step forward for the city. This will have a transformative effect on the city centre, both during the building phase, and afterwards as we add to the infrastructure.

“This really is an iconic site for Sunderland, and will attract people, jobs and money into the city centre for years to come.”

The flagship development will include a hotel, food, leisure, residential and parking elements in later phases of the work. It will also extend the amount of high quality office space with the aim of creating a commercial community at the heart of the city.

Councillor Paul Watson, chair of Siglion, adds: “A huge amount of work has gone into the plans and designs which will now start to see fruition; plans where local people and businesses have been able to give their feedback throughout the scheme to ensure we’re delivering what Sunderland wants and needs.”

The site, located to the north of St Mary’s Boulevard and bounded by the River Wear to the north, was bought by Tesco in 2001 after the brewery closed in 1999. Tesco failed to secure consent for its plans for the site, and the land was subsequently sold to Sunderland City Council in 2011.

The architect for phase one is Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios and the master plan for the 5.5 hectare site is by Urbed. Letting agents are Knight Frank and Naylors.

In a separate initiative, Sunderland’s first housing investment prospectus was recently unveiled to help encourage more development of new homes in the city. It was launched to an audience of housing developers, investors and registered social landlords by Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Health, Housing and Adult Services, Councillor Graeme Miller, at the Housing Development Summit held at the Stadium of Light. Last year, 895 new homes were completed in Sunderland – the highest number of housing completions in Tyne and Wear – and the prospectus outlines the regeneration, investment and development partnerships in place to build upon that momentum. It outlined a range of opportunities for both larger housing developers and smaller home builders which include larger family homes and executive housing, older people’s housing, specialist housing for the care sector and graduate housing. Sunderland City Council’s nominated ‘housing champion’ Cllr Miller says: “Our Housing Investment Prospectus announces to developers that Sunderland City Council is truly ‘open for business’ and our commitment to working with all our partners to provide more, and a better choice of housing within Sunderland.

“Sunderland is an ambitious city and a great place to develop housing with £2.3 billion of capital investment over the past ten years with further regeneration planned for the city centre, and we want to share and achieve our housing ambitions with all those present at the summit and beyond.”

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