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Business & Economy

World-class training centre to ‘level up’ Sunderland

Plans for a cutting-edge training facility that will see Sunderland people trained to build and upgrade the city’s homes locally, using modern construction methods, low carbon, renewable energy and smart technology is set to take a step forward next week.

An ambitious vision to build a Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA) – a ground-breaking facility that will educate, train and upskill local people to create innovative factory-built new homes, the first of which will be assembled at Riverside Sunderland – is set to advance, with Sunderland Cabinet expected to give the green light to seek funding for the building.

Working in partnership, Sunderland City Council will develop plans along with Education Partnership North East (EPNE) and the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE), to create the new educational space, that will be located in the Sheepfolds neighbourhood of Riverside Sunderland.

The training academy and innovation hub will – if funding is secured – allow Sunderland to develop future talent, ‘supporting a city-wide housing ecology’ that will ensure local people play a leading role in constructing homes of the future.  The city also believes the plans fit with the UK Government’s levelling up agenda, creating more economic opportunities for people and businesses by enabling the area to ‘build its own’.

It will also support the council’s strategy to create a carbon neutral city by 2040, training local people to deliver decarbonisation programmes for the city’s existing homes and neighbourhoods that will improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon footprint and keep residents warm throughout the winter months.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said that the authority is committed to making HICSA a reality, creating opportunities for young people to train in modern construction techniques, ensuring they have access to sustainable employment opportunities when they’re qualified.

He said: “We have an ambition to build 1,000 new homes on the Riverside Sunderland site, and we want them to be absolutely world-class.

“Sunderland people are known internationally for their ability to make things – from ships in bygone years to cars today.  We now have an opportunity to be a global leader when it comes to modern methods of construction (MMC), if we put in place the right infrastructure to deliver more highly-skilled people.  The HICSA will create opportunities for the people of Sunderland, and for the city itself, to carve out a new industry and to build homes that will allow it to grow its reputation as a place to live, work and play.

“It will allow our next generation to hone the skills they will need in the future.  It’s a vital next step in the city’s vision.”

City leaders hope that HICSA, which will cost around £14m to build, will receive financial support as part of the Government’s Build Back Better and Levelling Up agendas.

“HICSA is about enablement,” said Cllr Miller.

“It’s about giving the region the infrastructure it needs, and then watching it realise its vast potential.”


Through HICSA, young people will develop ultra-sustainable homes, constructed off-site and making use of the latest technological advancements, to ensure the properties that are built in the city are eco-friendly, digitally advanced, and help Sunderland realise its Smart City and Net-Zero Carbon ambitions.

It will also help to improve the energy efficiency and carbon footprint of a vast number of homes across the city, reducing energy costs and improving health and wellbeing.

“This will advance so many of our agendas as a city, and indeed, so many of the pressing priorities of this country.  We’re hugely excited about the prospect of getting this project moving.”

Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of EPNE, which comprises Sunderland College, said: “The HICSA will create a place in which young people develop exciting new skills, which will not only create opportunities for them, but will advance the agenda of the city when it comes to building homes using modern methods of construction that are faster to construct and deliver exemplary quality and energy efficiency standards that, ultimately, provide more flexible, modern homes that respond to the changing ways in which people are living.

These improvements should not be limited to new homes and we are acutely aware of the important role that HICSA has to play in delivering training and skills that will support a programme of improvements to the city’s existing housing stock.

“We are extremely passionate about the role that education can play in not only improving the life chances of the people we teach, but also in increasing the prospects of Sunderland as a city and the region at large.  We’re hugely excited to be working on a project that could train a new generation of skilled housebuilders, showcase new technologies, and promote innovation and knowledge transfer.”

The HICSA is one of a number of exciting projects that are incorporated in the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan, which sets out a development framework for this part of the city, comprising the former Vaux Brewery site, High Street West, Keel Square, Galley’s Gill, Farringdon Row and Sheepfolds.  The Sunderland Future Living Expo – an event that will culminate in a Festival in 2023 – is also part of the plan, helping to engage and inspire industry and local people in the delivery of innovative homes on the site, and positioning Sunderland as a world-class place to live, work and play.

George Clarke, TV architect and founder of MOBIE said: “High quality homes are at the absolute heart of a successful society and a thriving economy, and by building them locally, Sunderland can maximise the benefit to the city.  Training up the next generation in modern methods of construction is critical to ensure we are at the forefront when it comes to delivering on the future needs of the UK.  We are a city of makers, and HICSA will ensure that Sunderland becomes a known-leader in MMC.”

To find out more about the plans for Riverside Sunderland, visit