Local: A new dawn for Sunderland

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, looks back on 2020 and tells North East Times why 2021 stands to be a positive year, with exciting developments underway and more in the pipeline

Q: How has the landscape in Sunderland changed over the last 12 months due to COVID-19?

A: High streets and evening economies across the UK have been dealt a series of devastating blows throughout the pandemic and Sunderland has been no exception.

Despite this, the city landscape has continued to transform due to the ongoing redevelopment of Riverside Sunderland, a new 33-hectare urban quarter which, when complete, will create up to 10,000 jobs and 1,000 eco-friendly smart homes at the heart of the city centre.

Situated on the former Vaux Brewery site and spanning both sides of the River Wear, the site has been a hive of activity throughout the year, with cranes dominating the city’s skyline and helping bring to life the new City Hall and construction work continuing apace on the development of the stunning new Auditorium.

Meanwhile, the seafront has also continued to reap the benefits of the city’s ongoing transformation with the launch of STACK, a popular container village overlooking Seaburn beach and the construction of the Seaburn Inn, a new 40-bedroom inn and restaurant which is expected to open its doors early next year.

While 2020 has been an incredibly testing time for the city, it has also given us a chance to take a step back and take note of all of the positive developments happening around us. Sunderland is a city built on the resilience of its people and hundreds of millions of pounds being pumped into the city over the next decade, we are confident that this resilience will see us recover from the crisis as swiftly as possible as we look to the future.

Q: How are you now planning for 2021 and laying the foundations for a successful post-pandemic future – will you be looking to work with central Government for necessary support and funding to achieve your goals? 

A: Though the Government has provided urgently needed funding to the council to redistribute to businesses and organisations that need it most, and to ensure our public services have been able to continue operating during the crisis, there remains a very high degree of uncertainty over next year’s budget which makes financial planning for 2021 and beyond extremely difficult.

The Government promised earlier this year that it would help local authorities meet the costs they incur while fighting the pandemic and prevent pressure building on the NHS, yet this has so far proven to be far from the case. In Sunderland alone we have a £12 million financial black hole in our finances as a result of the crisis, despite having secured four tranches of funding.

Looking ahead to 2021, we will continue to seek support from the Government and apply for funding if and when the opportunities arise.

A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) revealed that Sunderland – and our fellow North East cities – are predicted to return to growth in the second quarter of 2021, which is testament to the fantastic work the council and its partners have put in to transform the city over the past few years and position Sunderland as a city fixated on the future.

However, the report also makes it clear that our rate of recovery still pales in comparison to our southern counterparts proving that, yet again, if this government is truly serious about ‘levelling up’ then we need actions, not words.

Q: 2020 saw the publication of the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan to create 1000 new homes and 1 million sq ft of offices and workspace on the banks of the River Wear. How do you expect the development to progress as we enter 2021 and what kind of opportunities will there be for local companies to win contract work on the site? 

A: Riverside Sunderland is one of, if not the most ambitious city centre regeneration projects in the UK at this current moment in time.

The project will be transformative for the city and breathe a new lease of life into an area with vast potential.  It’s a masterplan that will reinvigorate the city in a wider sense too – creating a place we can be proud to call the heart of Sunderland and creating jobs – not only through the businesses relocating to the site – but also the entire supply chain.

Throughout the construction of The Beam – the site’s flagship office space which has already attracted Ocado, Penshaw View and Asset55 – we have worked with local developers to bring the project to life, providing opportunities across the supply chain for regional companies such as Tolent and Desco.

The development of City Hall on land immediately adjacent to The Beam has also strengthened this commitment. Designed by Faulkner Browns Architects and constructed by local firm Bowmer + Kirkland, the building officially topped out in August and will be home to near-2000 workers when it opens its doors next year.

Add to that the two Grade A office buildings that are set to be constructed by global investment giant Legal & General, the development of a new housing scheme, a multi-storey car park, two pedestrian footbridges and a new city centre hotel, and we are confident 2021 will herald a new dawn for the city as we continue to deliver on our promise to develop new housing, jobs and leisure facilities to the people of Sunderland.

But Riverside Sunderland is just the beginning.  Sunderland is springing back to life.  We’re seeing more and more investment flooding into the city.  The private sector is alive to the opportunities and that is bringing about transformation at a pace not seen for decades.

Over the next decade, Sunderland will become a ‘magnet city’.  Aspirational families will move here.  Corporates will see this as a place they want to do business – and their people will spend money in the city centre stimulating new jobs and business growth.

Visitors will come to enjoy our unique offer – riverside, seaside and city centre.  We will attract people – we will reinvent the heart of Sunderland and send a message that this is the place to be.