November 21, 2019 @ 11:00 by Steven Hugill
Regeneration bosses have unveiled a £100 million city centre project that has the potential to deliver thousands of jobs.
Investment manager Legal & General has agreed a deal with Sunderland City Council to create new office space on the former Vaux brewery site.
Bosses say the announcement – part of the wider Riverside Sunderland regeneration project and extensive £1.5 billion city-wide revitalisation – is the “single most significant investment story to come out of Sunderland for decades.”
The plans, which focus on three Grade A office buildings totalling up to 300,000sq ft, further add to Sunderland’s rapidly changing commercial and leisure landscape.
Online grocer Ocado is rolling out a 300-job recruitment drive after moving into THE BEAM – built on former Vaux land – while work is also underway on a new City Hall.
Further developments include a 120-room Holiday Inn hotel on Keel Square; a 450-seater auditorium in the city’s Minster Quarter; a new business centre in the former River Wear Commissioners Building; and a vision to revitalise the Seaburn area.
Bosses also previously invested nearly £120 million on the 105-metre high Northern Spire road bridge, which links Castletown to the north of the River Wear with Pallion on the south, to improve transport connections in the city and provide scope for further regeneration of land along the riverbank.
Referring to its office plans, Nigel Wilson, chief executive at Legal & General – which has invested in flagship office building, The Lumen, at Newcastle Helix’s development – said the company was delighted to be playing its part in Sunderland’s renaissance.
He 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.”
Patrick Melia, chief executive of Sunderland City Council, said the investment represented a “serious vote of confidence” in the city.
He added it had been secured thanks to the ambition and vision of the council, which now leads on the city’s regeneration plans, having taken full control of development company Siglion earlier this year.
“Make no mistake, today’s announcement is the single most significant investment story to come out of Sunderland for decades,” said Patrick.
“Legal & General’s backing will allow us to supercharge plans to transform our city centre, creating a magnet destination that will attract more people to live, work and play here.
“Sunderland has been something of a sleeping giant, but it has awoken, and we’re absolutely determined to ensure this city realises every bit of its vast potential,” added Patrick.
“This is a huge, huge step forward, but there’s more to come.
“We are absolutely determined to create the healthy, dynamic and vibrant city our residents deserve and want to see, and we will keep building on each success, to transform Sunderland and create a place where people can be proud to live, work and do business.”
Sunderland’s wider business community has given its praise to the regeneration work, with officials highlighting how it will strengthen the economy, retain and attract new businesses, boost skills and provide the city’s retail environment with a much-needed lift.
Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of Education Partnership North East – which includes Sunderland College – and chair of Sunderland Business Partnership, said: “This is a city that is taking control of its own destiny and driving change through positive, proactive development.
“Sunderland College made a £30 million-plus investment in City Campus just three years ago, and during the period that has followed, the rate of change in the city centre has been gathering pace.
“This announcement is hugely significant, and I’m thrilled to see yet more investment flow into the city.”
Sharon Appleby, head of business operations at Sunderland Business Improvement District, said: “The city centre is starting to look very different, and there’s no doubt the incredible amount of investment coming in will start to bear fruit in the coming months and years.
“This announcement of such a vast investment sum shows the level of confidence that is building, not only in the city, but among the investment market, who are seeing the great potential that Sunderland has.
“We’re delighted and look forward to seeing the city centre district expand as more buildings rise from the ground.”
Chris Brown from igloo, which is working as part of the delivery team on Riverside Sunderland, added: “This continuation of the regeneration of the former Vaux site will turbo charge the transformation of Sunderland city centre.
“The new jobs, and the shops and cafes they will support, will also boost the attraction of waterside city centre living in the new neighbourhood of Riverside Sunderland.”