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Business & Economy

Legal & General to transform Sunderland skyline

A British multi-national financial services firm is stepping up its commitment to transforming the urban landscape in Sunderland.

Legal & General is behind some of the UK’s most successful regeneration projects.

The institutional investor, which is headed up by Sedgefield-born businessman Nigel Wilson, has a clear remit; to back sustainable development that will deliver significant social impact.

Eighteen months on from the announcement of a £100 million investment in Sunderland, the impact of Legal & General’s huge vote of confidence is starting to be felt.

A further £60 million injection into a second site in the city was confirmed at the end of 2020, and as Sunderland looks forward to the easing of lockdown and the city centre springs back to life, residents who have stayed at home will see a very different landscape as they enter the heart of a transforming Sunderland.

“There is a real sense of momentum-build in Sunderland right now,” says Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council.

“It feels very different, as you drive into Sunderland. It looks very different. The presence of City Hall, right on the edge of the former Vaux Brewery site, has made a part of the city that has long felt disconnected, actually fit again.  Suddenly, the city centre has been extended – we now have a riverside that feels very much part of Sunderland’s heart. And this is just the start.”

City Hall is the first building that has been backed by Legal & General, with the firm having spoken of the real sense of confidence they felt from Sunderland City Council, who were determined to realise their vision for this new urban quarter.

“I think that confidence absolutely shines through,” says Cllr Miller.  “We are absolutely committed to changing the city – to changing the cityscape and to re-energising the city, socially and economically, through our investment programme.  And the belief we have, and the courage and conviction to put our money where our mouth is and be prepared to take a leap of faith is what sent a message to the market; this is a city that will deliver.  Back us, and we will deliver.”

Delivering 200,000 sq ft of office space, and due to complete by autumn, City Hall will become a hub for a range of support services, including Sunderland City Council.

Split into two main footprints, connected by a glass atrium, the stunning new space, which is being built by Sunderland construction partner Bowmer + Kirkland, will deliver a state-of-the-art space, that will make it easy for residents to access a range of organisations set up to enable and empower them to realise their potential.

“This is very much about creating a community focal point,” explains Cllr Miller.

“A one-stop-shop for services that will assist our residents – in a building that is fit for purpose.”

Though still some months from being completed, City Hall is already making its presence felt.

Standing seven storeys high, there is a genuine sense of arrival in the city.  It’s height frames St Mary’s Boulevard, and makes a part of the city centre that once felt remote feel very much connected.

“That sense of connectivity is key, as we want to unlock the potential of the riverside,” says Cllr Miller.  “We want that to feel very much part of the city centre, exploiting an asset that really has been hidden for so long.”

And it was this wider vision that engaged Legal & General.

Speaking at the time of announcing the investment, Nigel Wilson – who travelled to the city to see work get started on City Hall – said: “Sunderland City Council has drawn up a visionary plan for Sunderland; a city ripe for economic growth, having historically lagged behind its Northern neighbours.

“As seen with our other Future Cities investments in areas such as Oxford, Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle and Cardiff, a long term patient capital injection can completely transform towns and cities. This can have a direct social impact, creating real jobs and supporting real wage increases, whilst creating a virtuous circle by generating income to pay pensioners.

“This is Inclusive Capitalism at its best. We hope our investment today will accelerate regeneration plans for Sunderland, attracting further capital to support the vast potential of this city.”

City Hall is just one part of the picture.  Next up – as part of the investor’s £100m commitment – is a new commercial building, that will stand behind the City Hall site and deliver speculative office space.

Developer Landid is leading the project, and it is thought that work on the first of two speculative offices that between them will deliver 200,000 sq ft of grade A floorspace, will get started by summer.

Designed by dn-a architects – a company that has worked on high-profile projects for Warner Bros and Unilever among others – the buildings will comprise 112,660 sq ft and 94,991 sq ft of Grade A office space respectively, with the larger building set across six floors and the smaller across five.

It is hoped that the first building will open in 2022 and that the second office, which will be delivered by Landid thanks to Legal & General’s investment, will follow immediately after the completion of the first.

Mike Coplowe, senior development manager at Legal & General – who is overseeing the Sunderland projects on behalf of Legal & General – says: “This is a world-class regeneration site and these will be two excellent buildings, that will appeal to ambitious companies that want to be part of a vibrant new community. It’s an exciting project to support, and we’re really looking forward to seeing the impact this has on Sunderland.”

And his enthusiasm for Riverside Sunderland is backed by Landid MD, James Silver.

“The wider vision for Riverside Sunderland is spectacular and these buildings will slot in beautifully. The buildings will match the quality of the UK’s major cities, creating places where people will enjoy working and where businesses will be part of a vibrant mixed-use community.

“We’re absolutely bought into the vision for the city and being able to play such a key role in helping Sunderland realise that, through delivery of three iconic new buildings that will be the workspace of upwards of 3,000 people is just incredible and something we’re proud to work on.”

Standing side-by-side, with riverside views, both buildings will target BREAAM excellence standards, with a focus on in-built sustainability.  Combined, the buildings will deliver more than 3x the floorspace of The Beam, the first office to be built on the former Vaux Brewery site, which is now home to global grocer Ocado.

The developments are part of a Sunderland City Council-led vision to deliver more than 1 million sq ft of office space across the Riverside Sunderland development, creating workspaces for up to 10,000 people.

And, having learnt more about Sunderland’s ambitious regeneration plans, Legal & General strengthened its partnership with the city last year, when it committed £60m to a site in a different part of the city, that will also see the firm play a key role in yet-more job creation in Sunderland.

Hillthorn Park, which will be transformed into a thriving business park, will help create 1,600 new jobs in Sunderland.

Legal & General filed a planning application for the first of two phases at Hillthorn Park, which will eventually deliver 600,000 sq ft of floorspace for industrial, storage and distribution businesses, supporting the city’s economic growth.

If the application is approved by the Council’s committee when it meets in June 2021, work on the 25-hectare site in Washington will commence in September, with the expectation that Hillthorn Park will be fully built out by 2023.

Hillthorn Park is an allocated employment site, which means that it has been earmarked for development for some time.  Legal & General’s proposals will accelerate the transformation of the Washington site, part of which has already been designated Enterprise Zone status, identified by the Government and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in 2012 as key locations for new economic development.

“Hillthorn is yet another demonstration of Legal & General’s confidence in this city.  And a sign of the strength of the partnership we have established.

“Sunderland is a city on a march.  The skyline is changing, confidence is growing and we’re ready to take on the brave new world as we look ahead to a brighter future.”